Archive for category Fiction

Slow Burn – Chapter 5

Chapter 5

“Jeremyyyyy……Jeremyyyyy….selfie please!”

“I love you Jeremy!!!”

“You are so handsome, Jeremy Ledesma!

Natasha should be used by this by now, but it still amazes her the kind of reaction Jeremy elicits from his legions of mostly female fans. She is very happy for him, of course, and all the success that continues to come his way. When she got to know him better, she found out that he fought hard for that success, and it was not just handed to him because of his good looks, and not solely because of his amazing talent. The hardest battle he fought was with his father who never approved of his chosen career. But he persevered and she admire him for that, very much.

“Nat, just hold on to me, okay!” Jeremy said, breaking into Natasha’s thought as he helped her out of the car and into the entrance to the venue where the awards ceremony was being held.

The screams grew louder as they walked towards the entrance after having handed Jeremy’s car key to the parking valet. Some of those waiting for Jeremy even asked if he can stand away from Natasha so they can have a solo photo of him, or a better ‘selfie’, blatantly excluding her, but he just smiled and held on to Natasha tighter, even when she tried to pull away to give in to the fans’ requests.

They made it to the entrance after several stops. There, Benedict, Jeremy’s manager was waiting for them to escort them to their seats. They made it on time. Both Jeremy and Natasha hate arriving late to an event even if it is something people somewhat let slide. Midway through the ceremony, Jeremy whispered to Natasha that he needed to go backstage to prepare for his number. He had rehearsed for that earlier as he wanted to be with Natasha before he performs.

“I’ll see you later, Nat. Or would you rather go to the backstage with me?” Jeremy asked, reluctant to leave Natasha. He remembered that she didn’t really want to go with him to this event and had to cajole her. Jeremy thought that Natasha hated being put on the spot like this. But unknown to him, Natasha had a different reason for trying to beg off, though that reason had been superseded by events.

“Go, go. I will stay here, and chat with Tita Yasmin.” Natasha assured Jeremy. They were lucky to have been seated with the wife of a well-known older singer, who happened to be a big fan of Natasha. She has not missed any of her shows. “I’ll be okay, especially with Tita Yasmin here.”

“Don’t worry, Jeremy, I’ll keep Natasha company.” Yasmin assured Jeremy. “Just go and wow us with your performance.”

“Thanks a lot, Tita Yasmin. Nat, laters!” Jeremy kissed Natasha on the cheek before going with the staff who will escort him to the backstage, a move which surprised Natasha and the kiss felt different from his usual beso! It was like the kiss they have shared in her house, something really, really different about it!

Natasha was still mulling over the kiss, her hand on her cheek when Yasmin broke into her thoughts.

“Natasha, please forgive me for asking ha, and for prying also, but are you and Jeremy together now?” Yasmin asked with a big indulgent smile. “ I hope it is okay that I am asking.”

“Together, in what way, do you mean, Tita?” Natasha was startled with the question. She does not mind Yasmin asking as she feels comfortable with her. She knew somewhat Yasmin was asking, she just want to be doubly sure. She was surprised that she sensed it too. She needed a moment to marshal her thoughts and to get use to this ‘different’ Jeremy.

“You mean, together as in the two of you in a romantic relationship!” Yasmin clarified, smiling. “I know you guys are the best of friends, and I know you are very close, very there is something different between you guys this evening, a vibe I am feeling. To be honest, I felt it before when I see the two of you, but then my husband would say that you two are just very good friends. But this evening, Jeremy is acting like a very protective boyfriend and he only had eyes for you. I’m sure I’m not the only one who noticed.”

“Errrr, we are not, you mean, boyfriend and girlfriend. We are just close friends.” Natasha said hastily, her face flushing, then asked, “Really, you think this is very different from our usual? Maybe, Jer is just happy to be attending this award and besides, he is also in the process of doing a new album and he is happiest doing that. It is his passion. He might just be very happy.”

Looking at her, Yasmin smiled. Something has changed between these two, but she thinks it is still very new, so maybe she better stop and let these two kids be. “Oh, okay! Sorry for prying, Natasha! Well, seeing the two of you, I wish you will end up together. Not only you look good together, you suit each other.”

“Thank you for that, Tita Yasmin. Jeremy is very special to me.” Natasha said simply, her heart beating faster with the thought. People are seeing something different in them! But haven’t the media been speculating about it for years now! However, this time, she knows that there is indeed something different between her and Jeremy and it all started with that kiss at her house the Friday before!

“….Jeremy Ledesma….”

Hearing his name, Natasha looked at the stage and saw Jeremy, tapping his hand on his jeans-clad thighs as he waited for the opening notes of the song he was about to sing. He looked so handsome as he waved to the screaming crowd, with his boyish smile, a smile that reaches his beautiful, expressive brown eyes. If someone will ask Natasha what is Jeremy’s best feature is, she would readily say, his eyes. He waved once more and blew a kiss to the crowd, before his beautiful voice floated around the packed venue. There was a noticeable hush as he sang.

I’m burning for you, baby….ohhh…

Can’t you feel it, baby….

Can’t you feel it, baby….ohhhh

I hope you do…

Let us embrace the fire together….

You and I, we are meant to be….

Oh, baby, baby, baby….

Jeremy finished the last lines of the song that he wrote himself with his eyes closed, feeling every note, every words he sang. Then he gazed again at Natasha, like he was doing before the last refrain of the song. He only had eyes for her.

Natasha felt the heat of Jeremy’s stare. The lyrics of his new song and the melody sounded way different from his previous songs. This is the first time she was hearing it too. She knew that Jeremy was working on a new album, but she never had gotten around to listening to his new songs like before. Sometimes, he would for her opinion and feedback when he was composing a song. But not this time, even when they met the previous Friday at her house. Even if she was busy before with her show before, Jeremy didn’t mention this song that momentous Friday, when they could have listen to it.

Yasmin nodded, then clapped enthusiastically with the crowd. There was definitely something there! He was telling her something with that song, she thought to herself. Maybe it comes with age, or because she and his husband Jason went through something like this, she can see all the love that Jeremy Ledesma was bestowing on the sweet girl beside her. It felt like he only saw her all the time he was singing and not the huge crowd that evening. And oh boy, the lyrics of the song! It touches the heart so much. The boy is very much in love. She smiled. She hoped that these two young ones will end up together.

Several minutes later, Jeremy returned to his seat besides Natasha.

“That was beautiful, Jeremy. I’m sure it will be a hit.” Yasmin said, seeing that Natasha was still unable to say anything else! “What’s the title of that beautiful song?”

“Thank you Tita Yasmin. It’s called Slow Burn.”  Jeremy smiled at the older lady, then gazed at Natasha. “How about you, Nat? Did you like it?”

“E-r-r, it is beautiful, Jeremy. I never realized that you were working on this. I’m sure it will be a hit like Tita Yasmin said.” Natasha managed to say over the fast beating of her heart. It seems like she was having a LSS with the song and as she was hearing in her head his beautiful voice, and it felt like he was singing directly to her!

The song is about a boy who fell in love with his best friend, and he was singing that love just crept by on him, like a slow burning fire, that it started a long time ago and he tried to douse it, but it kept burning and now it is consuming him. He wishes that the girl feels the same, and that she is ready to embrace the fire with him. Nat actually got self-conscious as she noticed Jeremy looking only to her as he sang. He also appeared nervous which was so unlike him. She thought only her noticed that as she knows him very well. She thought he only sought her while singing for support and comfort. But now, she instinctively knew that there was so much more with his gaze.

“I’m glad you like it. It is a recent addition to the album I am working on. I finished and recorded it over the weekend.” Jeremy said nonchalantly as he sat beside Natasha, then he dropped his bomb. “The song is for you. I wrote it for you, you know.” He whispered to Natasha, taking hold of her left hand, intertwining it with his.

Natasha whipped her head in surprise. “For me! But…? How…? Why…?” She started asking rapidly when the hosts of the awards ceremony announced Jeremy’s category.

“Shhhs, we will talk about it later.” Jeremy said with a big smile, pressing their joined hands. He didn’t mean to blurt it out like that to Nat. But he was just very happy that the song that he was working on like crazy turned out very well. He poured all his emotions in that song, hoping to send the message across to Natasha that he loves her with all of him.

Jeremy drew the loudest cheer from the fans when the nominees for that final award category was flashed on the giant LED screen inside the theatre. He was up for some stiff competition. Then the winner was announced.

“…the Best Male Pop Artist is….JEREMY LEDESMA!”

The camera zoomed in on where Jeremy was seated, and captured him hugging and then kissing Natasha on the lips before he walked towards the stage! It was not just the television cameras that captured that moment, but the cameras of the phones of his fans. It went viral soon after.

The presenters gave Jeremy his trophy and he proceeded to make a short thank you speech. Towards the end of his speech, he gazed at Natasha, then raised his trophy. “Lastly, this award is for a very special person in my life. Thank you for being there for me always and for inspiring me.”

Even if he didn’t mention her name, people looked at Natasha, speculating on the real score between her and Jeremy now. Natasha felt herself blushing from head to toe, and there seemed to be thousands of butterflies fluttering in her tummy. Oh, Jeremy! Natasha managed to whisper.

 

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Slow Burn – Chapter 4

Chapter 4

Jeremy put his phone down on the coffee table in the living room of his penthouse unit in an upscale condominium building in Makati after he texted Natasha. Smiling, he went to his room and took a shower. When he got out, he eagerly checked if there was a reply from her. He was a bit disappointed that there was none, but he was not surprised. He had given Natasha enough to think about and absorb for a while. He hoped though that she would see things the same way he would like to see or envision it to be, them in a romantic relationship!

He went to bed, but unable to sleep, still too keyed up with what happened that evening. He stared at the ceiling, put his right arm behind his head, using it as a pillow, then thought about his friendship with Natasha, and how it was, and how it is about to change big time once he let her know that he likes her a lot in romantic way. Stephen is right! Maybe, it is about time he does. He had tried, but unable to suppress anymore, what he feels for her. He sometimes wondered, how he lasted that long, being just friends with her!

Jeremy smiled, remembering his first meeting with Natasha. She was like a prickly cactus that evening. Later, when they became friends, she admitted to him that, that night was not one of her best nights. Then, he teased her mercilessly about it, acting out how she had been, in an exaggerated manner, and they have a good laugh about it.

Natasha told him that she was actually going through something that evening. She just saw her father with his second family. He was indifferent to her, and it hurt, especially after she had observed him being sweet to his daughter who was just a year younger than her! Yes, her father was already in relationship with his wife number two while he still married to Natasha’s mother! Added to that, one of her friends was going through a bad break up. Natasha is very cynical about love. It was one of the first things he had found out about her when they got pass their several false starts. It was the main reason why they ended up friends instead of being in a relationship. She nipped everything in the bud, when he started letting her know that he was interested in her romantically!

The moment their eyes met, that evening at the coffee shop he felt a pull, a very strong instant attraction to her. She looked so lovely, sitting there, trying to go for nonchalance after he heard her dishing the dirt on him, base solely on what she had seen on television or read in the papers and online, to Seb! She looked cute with that lovely flush on her face. He had known who she was. He had seen her as a cute theater kid, to the lovely teenager she had become in The King and I and The Sound of Music, two of his Mum’s favourite musicals.

He has not followed much of her career after that as he stopped going to the theater when his Mum died , and everything just went downhill with his father. Several years after his Mum died, they are still very much at loggerheads on most things. Sometimes, Jeremy wished his father would just let him be! How he missed his Mum, even after all these years!

While he was talking to Seb, he was very much aware of Natasha’s presence opposite him, serenely sipping her espresso. She just looked on at them, listening to them discussing the musical. Except for her initial falter when she introduced herself, she was as cool as a cucumber most of the time. He didn’t see her expression changed when he introduced himself, like what happened to people when they realized it is him, the famous singer. It was liberating that she was not in awe of his celebrity status. In fact, later on, Natasha admitted to him that one of the reasons she left early that night was because of all the fans that approached their table for photos. It was too much for her.

Of course, the following day, the shit hits the fan, so to speak, when their photo, him kissing Natasha good night on the cheek, went viral and she was paraded on social media as Jeremy Ledesma’s new flame, the latest in a string of party girls that people thought he was dating or passing his time with. She was put under intense scrutiny and worse, bashed by his so-called fans who were hiding under usernames and aliases! She was also sought after for interviews by entertainment bloggers and showbiz reporters. Both of them were, as it was the first time, a photo was taken with his ‘date’ that’s not in a bar or a party venue.

He clarified that he and Natasha had just met by accident because of their common friend, Sebastian. But it didn’t stop the talk or the bashing. At that time, they can’t reveal yet that they will be working opposite each other in a hit musical. There was a press conference scheduled to announce him joining the musical and present the other cast members several days after that meeting with Seb and Natasha. He can’t preempt that! It was what his management company’s condition to Seb and to the producer of the show. He communicated as much to Seb that evening.

Initially, his manager was against him doing the musical as it would take too much of his time, his schedule was packed. Besides, he said, theatre was not his forte. But Benedict relented when he insisted that it is something he would like to do for a long time. He wanted to prove that he was not just another pretty face who can carry a tune.

Besides, he wanted to do it also for his Mum. It has been something they both love and a big part of his happy childhood with her. He had been wanting to do theater for so long, even before he became a famous singer. His father objected as he wanted him to join the family business. He never liked Jeremy putting himself in the public limelight. He was also the main source of his Mum’s unhappiness and early death, in Jeremy’s mind!  He rebelled and did the things his father hates.

The day after he and Natasha first met, when he found out about the viral photo, Jeremy called Seb to get Natasha’s number, wanting to apologize to her for what had happened. Well, that was his excuse. He actually wanted to see her again, not only because of the musical, but because he was very much attracted to her. He wanted to pursue her romantically. It was just that, due to the people asking for photos the night before, he forgot to get her number.

When Natasha, told by Seb beforehand that Jeremy will get in touch, picked up the call, her voice sounded frosty. He asked her if they could meet! She declined politely, saying that she didn’t want to add more fuel to the fire. She also told Jeremy that while she knows things like that are part and parcel of being the Jeremy Ledesma, she does not appreciate being on the spotlight in that manner. Outside of her work, she told him, she was a private person.

He apologized profusely, especially as he can’t disclose yet that they would be working together in a musical. Natasha said she understood and that it was beyond his control, anyway. People will say whatever they want to say, and see what they want to see, believe what they want to believe. After that, luckily their viral photo was overtaken by another one, that of another showbiz couple who were caught on camera kissing in a parking lot! Of course, they were still asked if there was something between them when they were presented to the media, but they both denied that there was. The of them also explained that, they met for coffee because of the musical, like Jeremy had previously said. After the press conference, he invited her for a drink, but she declined. The next time they saw each other was on the first day of their rehearsals.

Jeremy’s phone made a beeping sound in the middle of his introspection. At first, he frowned, wondering who could  be messaging him in the middle of the night? Then he suddenly remembered his text message to Natasha earlier. Maybe, it’s her! Finally! He scrambled out of the bed fast, woke barefooted, in his boxers to where he had left his phone, earlier, in the living room. Good thing, he still heard the faint sound of it beeping!

Excitedly, he swiped his phone open. His excitement turned into disappointment several seconds after. It was not Natasha who sent him a message via Viber, not a text message from her after all! The message was from a commercial model he had dated for a couple of times. She even sent a photo of herself in a provocative dress, holding a drink at the watering hole in Bonifacio Global City where he met her one Saturday evening. Ashley was asking if he would like to join her and her friends, and she even promised to make it worth his while.

Jeremy wondered why did he ever date her! He ignored the message, put his phone on silent, then went back to bed. He was through doing meaningless stuff. He will just concentrate on his campaign to win Natasha.

The days that followed were busy days for Jeremy. He rehearsed for his upcoming concert, guested in a musical variety show and did a photo shoot for a magazine. He also shot a commercial for a car company, who wants to introduce their latest model to the young and hip crowd, and thought that he would be the best ambassador for their new product.

He asked the producers if Natasha, should she agree, can be one of the guests in his concert. They have said yes. He was planning to tell Natasha about it when they see each other again for the awards ceremony they will go to. They haven’t communicated with each other since ‘the kiss’, but that’s not unusual. There were times that they don’t talk for days due to their busy schedules.

Wednesday evening came! He was excited, not because he might win another award, but because he would see Natasha again. He ordered flowers for her and it was delivered just before he left his place. At first, he hesitated doing so as Natasha might ask all sorts of questions as it was outside his norm, but he wanted to do it, so he dialled the number of the florist that he uses from to time. The florist smiled when he told her what he wanted and told him, he was in luck as their new shipment had just arrived.

He texted Natasha when he was about to leave his place, and she just replied a short okay. Half an hour later, he was parked outside her building. He texted her again to tell him he was there. He drummed his fingers against the steering wheel, patiently, nervously and excitedly waiting for her!

Jeremy didn’t wait long. However, his eyes popped, and he gasped, when he caught sight of Natasha and what she was wearing, with matching stilettos! She was a vision in the dress she chose to wear that evening, a deep violet halter dress that hugged her curvaceous body, something she usually hides in leggings and loose shirts. Well, the dress did look very, very nice on her, even if it is more revealing that what she usually prefers or what he have seen her wear. He guess the dress was okay, and that was before she turned a bit to thank the receptionist!

“She can’t be seriously wearing that!” Jeremy exclaimed,  sitting straighter from his slouching position, seeing Natasha’s dress was not so demure after all! Most of her upper back was bare! He got out of the car, fast, and met her halfway.

“Hi Jer!” Natasha greeted him as she would normally do. He can’t detect any change in her treatment of him. In fact, she sounded like the kiss didn’t happen and he didn’t send that text message. “Nervous? I’m sure you’ll win so don’t be!”

“Hi Nat!” Jeremy returned the greetings by kissing her cheek as he normally does, when they meet up. He knows he does not have the right but he was unable to stop himself. “Errr, Nat, is your dress okay? Are you sure, you want to attend the event in that?”

“Ha, what is wrong with my dress? You told me, not so formal,”  Natasha asked, surprised, checking the dress she was wearing.

“Errr, yeah! But isn’t it too revealing?” He managed to say, treading carefully. “Do you have a shawl or something for that? What’s called, a wrap? It might also get cold in the venue!” He added hastily. Fast thinking there, Jer, he told himself!

Natasha laughed, her lilting laugh that Jeremy likes very much. “Come on, Jer, this is perfectly okay. Unless, the dress does not suit me? Hindi ba bagay?”

“No, Nat, you look very lovely, actually,” Jeremy admitted reluctantly.

“So, on with this dress! By the way, what brought this on? I have worn skimpier clothes on stage,” Natasha asked, finding Jeremy’s reaction a bit strange, after all this time!

“Oh nothing! Come let’s go.” Jeremy gave up explaining that he was feeling territorial and protective of her. He was in the past, but it was not as overt as this. He would just protect her the way he had been doing in the past.

Jeremy escorted Natasha to the car. He opened the door for her, then went to the driver’s side. He remembered the flowers. He grabbed it from the back seat before he went into the car.

“For you Nat!” Jeremy handed Natasha a beautiful bouquet, of tulips of different colors, as he slid into the driver’s seat!

“Wow, this is so lovely, Jeremy.” Natasha said, her heart beating faster. This was not the first time Jeremy gave her flowers, or gifts, but this is the first time he gave her tulips and usually too, he gives her flowers or gifts during the opening night of the show she was in! She looked at him a bit puzzled.

“Well, I just want to thank you for going with me this evening. I know you were a bit reluctant to do so.” Jeremy hastily said. He felt himself flushing and a bit nervous. He wanted to ease Natasha gently into him courting her, and suddenly he was nervous that she would see through him, with the flowers he gave her out of the blue.

“What are friends for! You know, you are very important to me and I want to share this evening with you, despite the crowd.” Nat said, looking at the tulips! “But thanks a lot for the lovely flowers.”

“Thanks a lot again, Nat.” Jeremy put his hand on top of Nat’s and gently squeezed it. “I appreciate you doing this very much. You are the best! I’m lucky to have you!”

Natasha looked at him in surprise, but she didn’t remove her hand. He smiled. She smiled back.

Jeremy drove off, humming his latest song, about a guy who can’t fight his feeling anymore for a girl he likes very much for a long time. Natasha on the other hand, stared at the vibrant tulips on her lap, touching one gently as she relived the kiss that she and Jeremy shared several days before!

 

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Slow Burn – Chapter 3

Chapter 3

Natasha plopped herself down her sofa after she had closed the door on Jeremy, and stayed like that for a while, still in shock at the intensity of the kiss that they have shared! She was not really expecting that their Friday night bonding would end like that, with a bang, with a big bang! It was the first time she and Jeremy had kissed like that outside of the musical they did.

She touched her lips which were still tingling, reliving the kiss in her mind. Oh my! What is happening to them? What brought it on? She does not have an idea. All she knew at that moment was that whatever she thought was extinguished several years ago had just came to life all of a sudden. The kindling actually started a fire, a slow burning one!

Jeremy Ledesma came into her life like a shooting star streaking into the night. She knew of him, but she never thought that they would cross paths. They didn’t move in the same circle. Their lifestyles, what she can gleaned from the numerous articles, features, and social media uploads on him, seemed to be the exact opposite.

By the time they met, she had several musicals and straight plays under her belt. While Jeremy, on the other hand, was already hugely popular by then and had several bestselling albums, and sold out concerts under his belt.

One evening, over cups of coffee, Seb, her friend who will direct Rent, and who also directed several other shows she had been into, told her that aside from her Mimi, they have cast the other roles, including that of Mark, Maureen, Angel, Colin and Joanne, but they were still waiting for the nod of the guy that they very much wanted to play Roger.

Natasha smiled, remembering that night. She and Seb were having coffee in a new coffee shop in a quiet, off the radar part of Quezon City as far as watering holes are concerned, when he started telling her about the casting just to divert her attention from the bad day she had.

“So, who is this all important guy that we are waiting for to play Roger?” Natasha asked desultorily, her mind was still on the bad day she had. Seb is used to her occasional moods, like this, when she sees her father, and would always cheer her up so she snaps out of it, fast.

“Oh my, Nat, it will be a casting coup if we can get him! Oh my God, I’m so excited. I wish he would finally say yes!”

“So, who is it?” Natasha asked, not really understanding Seb’s excitement. Her friend is flamboyant and openly gay and the way he was acting that evening, he didn’t sound at all like the very good theater director, who had honed his craft in New York, that he is! He was giddy.

“We are talking to Jeremy Ledesma! In fact…!”

“What? Him? Does he do theater? Can he do it? His background is not exactly theater!” Natasha asked before Seb can finished what he was about to say! She was just surprised at what he said. She thought Seb and the producers were in talk with a well-known Filipino-American actor who had been in several West End and Broadway productions before moving to the Philippines for good to be with his Filipino relatives, for Roger!

“Of course, Nat! He is the perfect Roger! All those angst and rebelliousness, being channeled on stage!” Seb pointed out. “Yes, this will be his first foray in professional theatre, but unknown to many, he was not a stranger to it. I also know that he is an easy guy to work with, professional and always on time for all his commitments.”

“Really, he is on time? With all the partying that he does?” Natasha asked, then continued, not seeing, that Seb’s expression has changed. “Really, Seb, I know he will sell tickets very fast, but do you want the notoriety that is always with Jeremy Ledesma?”

“Oh, I see, my reputation had preceded me!” A masculine voice remarked from behind Natasha, lightly.

“Jeremy, I’m glad you can make it!” Seb greeted the speaker effusively. He stood up and hugged him.

The name of the person who spoke finally sunk in, into Natasha. Oh my God! She also remembered Seb’s face changing as she was finishing what she was saying! She slowly turned and saw a handsome guy dressed casually in jeans and dark-colored t-shirt.

“Hi Seb! My apologies for the vague reply to you earlier. I thought I will be unable to get away from my other appointment at all. I decided to take the chance that you will still be here! You did mention that you will be here until 9PM.” Jeremy said amiably, smiling at Seb, not noticing that the quiet cafe was suddenly abuzz with conversation, realizing who had just came in!

Jeremy then looked at where Natasha was sitting. She knew her face was flushed, embarrassed at what she had just said. She was not normally quick to judge people! She wished then that the floor will just swallow her.

“Hi, I’m Jeremy!” He then offered his hand to her. She took it and it felt like she was hit with an electric current when their hands touched.

Natasha, was at a lost for several long minutes, just staring at the most beautiful brown eyes she had gazed upon and the handsomest face she had seen! She had met plenty of good-looking guys throughout her career, some of them visiting foreign theatre actors, and she was not moved like that. There was just something in Jeremy Ledesma that sets him apart from the rest! It was no wonder, he elicits screams everywhere he goes, with all that good looks, it is criminal, really, she mused while trying to gain her equilibrium.

“H-hello, I’m Natasha Reynoso!” She managed to say, suddenly feeling so guilty for saying those things about him when she didn’t really know him at all. Worse, he heard it! You have more manners than that, Nat!

“You were ‘Tuptim’ in the ‘King and I’, ‘Liesl’ in ‘ The Sound of Music’ and ‘little Cosette’ in Les Miserables!” Jeremy said, smiling oh charmingly at her, gazing at her intently.

“Oh, you have seen me on stage!” Natasha was surprised that he had remembered her for those roles she played many years ago.

“My Mum was a big theater fan. She used to drag me to the theater when I was a kid!” Jeremy explained, a bit self-consciously, so different from Natasha’s image of him in her head. “Nice to finally meet you, Natasha.”

“Jeremy, please have a seat. Join me and Natasha. It’s okay, she will be in the musical too.” Seb said, cutting through the private world Natasha and Jeremy were finding themselves into. “That is, if you can stay?”

“Oh sure, I don’t have any more plans for the evening.” Jeremy said, then he looked at Natasha and started saying as he was about to sit, “So, what will be your…..

He was unable to finish what he was saying and before he can sit down, a group of girls approached them, and asked for a picture with him. He obliged and right before Natasha’s eyes, he changed demeanor, got more like the Jeremy she sees in television interviews. It felt like it was what the other people at the coffee shop were waiting for, they also asked for a photo with him.

“Sorry, about that!” Jeremy sat down and looked apologetically at Natasha and Seb after the flurry of photo ops and selfies with him. His admirers went away happily.

“No worries, Jeremy. I thought this coffee shop would be quieter than the rest. That is why I chose this.” Seb remarked. “Well, it was. But since you were here, apparently not. Probably, someone already tweeted that you are here.”

“I don’t mind the fans. I owe my career to them. I’m sure you are used to them also, Natasha. But I better warn you also, that you may find yourself online and speculated on as you were with me!”

“Oh! It is okay! I don’t normally check what is being uploaded and floated on social media!” Natasha thought it would just be run of the mill kind of tweets and feeds about them, how wrong she was 24 hours later! “What could they say about me! I’m not the famous one, you are!”

Looking back to that evening, 24 hours later, she thought Jeremy was about to say something, but stopped himself. Instead, he looked at Seb and with a big grin, more like a child who received the best present from Santa, he told him his news. “Seb, I’m in, man! Thank you for this opportunity! I have been wanting to do this for so long!”

“OMG, really!” Seb shrieked happily! “I’m so happy. Now I have a complete dream cast! I should be the one thanking you, Jeremy!”

“You know I really, really wanted to do this. I can’t think of anything else since you called me about it. I just needed to talk to my management company. I’m looking forward to being a part of your production. It is a long way from our high school days and all the stage plays we were in, eh!”

“You two, know each other before? You did theater in school” Natasha asked, surprised. She was just content to be a passive listener, as she was trying to digest that Jeremy Ledesma seemed to be different from what she had heard and seen on TV.

Jeremy focused his whole attention on Natasha and with a big, boyish smile, he slung his arm around Seb’s shoulders affectionately. “This guy and me go a long way back. Didn’t he tell you? We were high school classmates, and we were both members of the theater club while in that all boys school.”

“Yes, Nat, I was about to tell you about that earlier. But Jeremy arrived.” Then at Jeremy, Seb said, “Nat is a friend too, Jeremy. I met her when were at the university. She will be Mimi to your Roger.”

“Wow, that’s great, Natasha! Before the hordes arrived, I was going to ask you what your role will be. I’m sure you will be a great Mimi and the role suits you. You have a beautiful voice. I’m so looking forward to doing the musical with you. I’m honored, actually!”

“Really!” Natasha said in a disbelieving tone, unable to help herself. Maybe he was just trying to be nice, patronizing, or being ‘showbiz’ in saying that. She can’t help it, sometimes, glib and charming guys raised her hackles! He is just too good to be true! She can’t helped being cynical at times, with all that she had seen happening to people she loves.

“Of course!” Jeremy replied, still smiling at Natasha, either he let passed her show of cynicism or he didn’t notice it at all. When they got to know each other better, Jeremy had teased her mercilessly about it. They laughed about it, but Nat knew it was not one of her shining moments.

Before Jeremy can finish what he was about to say, another group of girls approached their table and requested for a picture with him. He obliged. It was followed by another group, who were not as polite and as well-behaved as the first one. Jeremy with all the phone cameras thrust on his face, just smiled all throughout and posed, amiably.

“I better get going, Seb. I’m sorry for cutting this short. Please excuse me, Jeremy!” Natasha said, when the last group left.

She stood up, she was in a bit of a funk, and for some reason she can’t understand, a bit irritated with the gaggle of girls approaching them, or looking at Jeremy surreptitiously from their tables. Funny, how the coffee shop got full fast since he arrived! She felt like a bug under the microscope! “I’ll go ahead, Seb.” Then looking at Jeremy, she said, “Nice meeting you, Jeremy. Until the rehearsals then!”

“Nat, are you okay? Why don’t you stay a while!” Seb was surprised that Nat was leaving as they were thinking of seeing the last screening of a movie they have been both wanting to see. But of course, that was before Jeremy showed up. Seb told her later why he met her and Jeremy at the same time in that cafe. She knew that Seb wanted to ask her what was really bugging her, but Jeremy was there. Seb is also used to the cheerful, positive Natasha, and she was not that at all, that evening.

“I’m okay, Seb. I’m just tired. Just go catch up with Jeremy here! And no need to go with me out to the car. I’m parked just outside the door.” She told Seb, who was about to stand and go out with her to the parking lot. She just gave him a beso. “Let’s meet again on Saturday, okay?”

Seb nodded. “Take care, Nat! Text me when you get home.”

Jeremy, however, stood up, smiled at Natasha, then said, “Great meeting you, Natasha! See you at the rehearsals, looking forward that!”

Natasha felt his sincerity and she felt like a heel for the way she spoke about him, earlier, and the weird way she was acting that evening. Fair is fair, she acted badly. He had been nothing, but very nice and courteous to her the whole time. He acted like a normal person and not like a famous singer with an attitude and an oversize ego.

“I’m looking forward to that as well. And Jeremy, my apologies for the way I spoke earlier. I realized that I was speaking out of turn and I was being unfair as I don’t really know you, to be saying things like that. Then, I’m not good company to you and Seb also. I’m not always like this, really!” She finished with a smile.

He smiled back at her, a smile that reached his beautiful brown eyes, and for a little while, Natasha forgot where they were. It felt like it was just the two of them there, all the noises and the giggling faded in the background.

“Thank you, Natasha. I appreciate the candor. No worries. I’ll just work on you getting to know me better. Rest and relax. Works for me when I feel a bit off.”

“Thanks, Jeremy, I will just do that.” They way he was looking at her, Natasha felt herself blushing. “Good night.”

Before she can recover from that, he leaned forward and gave her a beso! “Drive carefully and see you soon.”

Someone caught that ordinary, harmless kiss on camera and posted it online, and it went viral! Suddenly, Nat’s life changed.

The beeping of her phone interrupted Natasha’s recollection of her and Jeremy’s first meeting. Who could be sending her a message in the middle of the night! She stood up, grabbed her phone where she dropped it earlier. Jeremy sent her a message.

Good night Nat! Sweet dreams! See you soon. And by the way, I’m not sorry we kissed.

“Oh my!… Natasha managed to say, with her heart hammering against her chest. How can she sleep, with that text message!

She went back to the sofa, plopped herself down again, and stared at the ceiling. What to do now? She asked herself. She felt giddy and at the same time nervous at what she feels in her gut – a big shift in hers and Jeremy’s relationship! Is she ready for it? What if…? Well, let’s see, she mused, then grinned. She just can’t help herself! Quizas, quizas, quizas! She started humming that too, from an old song that her mother likes very much.

 

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Slow Burn – Chapter 2

Chapter 2

“So, are you really going for it, this time?” Stephen said, nursing his second bottle of a light beer brand he favors. He had been listening to Jeremy the past hour, telling him that Natasha has plans of going to London if she makes it to the audition of a musical she would like to be part of, very much, and that they had accidentally kissed when he was leaving her place that evening. Reading between the lines, he sensed that his best friend was feeling out of sorts, confused at the moment, and that the kiss was of the earthshaking variety to unsettle his, normally cool, friend this much!

Jeremy called him two hours ago, asking if he could meet him at a low-key bar they frequent. Stephen had been best friend with Jeremy since they met in an exclusive boys school in high school, long before he got to be the most popular singer in the country, so he knew that he was not just asking for a random, laid-back meeting. They haven’t seen each other in several weeks. Their schedules do not seem to mesh. He is busy running his family’s radio stations, and Jeremy is also hard to pin down, with all his commitments, especially the past weeks. He had declined his invitation to go clubbing with him twice.

“Go for what?” Jeremy asked, looking at his oldest friend with brows knitted, taking a sip from his, now, warm bottle of beer.

“Court Natasha!” Stephen said, not mincing words. “Man, you love her for the longest time!”

“Ha! Am I that obvious to you? How about to our closest friends? Do you think Natasha knows?” Jeremy asked, though, he shouldn’t be surprised. Stephen is like a brother to him, actually. He knows him inside out. “I really thought I have buried it so deep, that I hid it so well! You know, hearing that she might be leaving the country, the feeling, it came back full force, especially after we kissed! I guess it was just there all long. See, you even know how I feel about her!”

“Man, of course, but it was just obvious to me, I guess! I know from the get go that you were very much attracted to her, from the first time you have met her, I think. Tell me if I’m wrong! I also saw how you were with her, so many times! If not for that, I would have made a move myself, and ask her out.” Stephen admitted to his best friend sheepishly. “She is a very pretty girl, inside out. I like her a lot, you know!”

It was news to Jeremy, so he looked at Stephen in surprise. They haven’t talked about Natasha like this! He had bottled up what he feels for Natasha for years, put it in the recesses of his heart and brain, since he had decided to curb his intense attraction he felt for her even on their first meeting. He opted for the friendship. It felt more important at that time. He didn’t want to ruin the rare bond that he developed with her.

“Yeah, yeah, I  just said I would have. No need to be like a caveman man, me-and my-woman-kind-of-thing with your best friend! I didn’t act on it, did I?” Stephen raised both his hands in a gesture of self-defense, forestalling his friend.  “Besides, with you around I don’t think I would have stood a chance! She only sees me as your dearest friend, you know!”

“What do you mean? Do you think Nat likes me too, that way?” Jeremy asked his friend, sounding hopeful!

“I think so. I believe so. Don’t you feel it, don’t you see it? She likes you, not as a famous singer that has fans screaming, mostly female ones, as soon as you enter the stage, but as you, as Jeremy Ledesma, the person. She treats you like a normal person, isn’t it? Looking in from the outside, the two of you actually look like you are in a relationship, instead of just being friends.You have this special way of treating each other that excludes other people sometimes, including me!” Stephen to stress his point, and to prod his friend to finally make his move, leaned forward and said, “Look man, why do you think people never got tired of asking you and her if you are in a relationship and what is the real score between the two of you? They must be seeing something that you two are not seeing. It has been years since you did ‘Rent’ and became friends.”

Jeremy took a gulp of his drink, tilted the whole bottle and decided to finish it off. Stephen’s words got him thinking.

“Don’t you think it will destroy our beautiful friendship if I show my interest in her, that way? If I seriously let her know that I want a romantic relationship with her?” Jeremy asked, seemingly still unsure of himself. He who had faced millions of audience in the course of his career and faced countless sharp entertainment reporters who want to be the one to unlock what makes Jeremy Ledesma tick.

“Man, if your fans can hear you now! If they can see you now! Priceless! They would have remarked ‘how the mighty had fallen!’ Haven’t seen you like this, you my cocky friend, who had face life and all it gave you with so much bravado!” Stephen said, grinning. “But seriously, Jeremy, what’s worse? You staying on the safe side with her, when you love her, then she ended up with another guy, or you going for broke and gambling on what you feel for her, and what she might be feeling for you too. Better to find out, than stay on the safe zone, the friend zone. Don’t friend-zoned yourself! If she does it, after you took the gamble, then at least you have tried.”

“I know you are right, of course. In my head, I have rationalized it countless of times.” Jeremy sighed. “But she is the best thing that had happened to me. You know that and you know my background. I don’t want to lose her if I make a move to change our current relationship. You know, upset the status quo. I’m nervous about rocking the boat, so to speak!”

“Gamble man, it’s about time you do. Don’t wait until it’s too late. Natasha is a beautiful girl, intelligent, level-headed and nice and some lucky man might snatch her away, right under your nose, if you don’t do something about it! Sometimes, we need to go for broke for some thing that is very important to us.” Stephen clapped Jeremy on the shoulder. “Think about what I said. Regret is a cold bedfellow! Take a chance. I’m off to the toilet, back in a bit!”

Jeremy signalled to the waiter for another beer for him and, seeing Stephen’s empty bottle, for him as well. While waiting for the drinks, he glanced around the room, uninterested. His eyes met that of a group of girls from the other table. They have obviously been talking about him. One of them looks familiar, then in a snap he placed her as the lead singer of a new provocative all-girl band. They also performed in the last music awards he attended, the one where Nat was unable to go with him as she was doing a show at that time. Isabel, that’s her name, came on to him a bit. He just ignored her, and pretended to be dense.

Before the girl can make her move, Jeremy decided to do some evasive actions. He grabbed the beer bottles that the waiter was putting on the table, went outside, in a small place at the back of the bar, then texted Stephen to go there. He and Stephen have an open tab at this bar and the owners just bill them every month. Francis, the owner became a friend, and he was the one who told him that he can use this space if he needs too, understanding that with his fame, he needs a space to escape to from time to time.

“What happened?” Stephen asked as soon as he saw Jeremy standing near the edge of the small garden there.

“Well, I was just trying to avoid complications that I don’t really seek or want, anyway, especially now. I saw a girl inside that came to me before. She was there with a group of friends and she was eyeing me again.” Jeremy replied. “Remember what happened with the girl you introduced me to, your date the last time we went out. I ended up plastered on social media with her!”

“Man, sorry about that again. I didn’t realize that she only wanted to do that when she asked me if we can go out.” Stephen said. “Had I known it would happen, I would have said no. She is a friend of my sister, actually! I forgot to tell you.”

“No worries, Stephen. Water under the bridge. Though, Nat thought we were dating! She asked me about it after she had agreed to accompany me to the awards next week. It took me a while to persuade her this time. It was strange really as usually, she just say yes, except when she is not free.”

“Hmmm, see, take that as a sign. Maybe she was actually jealous, doesn’t like you with other girls. At least, she is not indifferent to that aspect of your life.”

“I don’t know Stephen. I just don’t want a repeat of that incident with Katrina Robles, especially now that I’m leaning towards taking that gamble you were talking about. I want to have a better chance with Nat. I have been trying to clean my act, lately! I want to be the person she wants to be romantically, and not just the ‘platonic’ thing we have. I want to be the love of her life, and not as a surrogate brother!”

“Jer, you are a good guy and Nat know the real you. Just hold on to that. Be yourself. I don’t think she believes all the drivel that has been written about you. Most of it were not true and she knows that of all people. There’s nothing to clean. Don’t change who you are. I think Nat wouldn’t want that. I am not her, and I can’t really speak for her, but I got to know her pretty well through you.” Stephen said earnestly, then added. “Now I understand why you had declined my invitation to go out twice. Was it part of this ‘new you’ campaign?”

“No, it was not just because of that! I was just feeling tired of the sameness of going to our usual haunts. Don’t you feel like that at times?”

“Yes, I do! Especially, I get tired of those people who thought that I can get them a job in our radio stations and that they just want to be in my good graces because of the influence they thought I have in the industry. But with you and our friends, it is different. I just want to hang out with you and be me.”

“The same goes for me, Stephen, the same goes for me!” Jeremy said, taking one more drink from his still half full bottle. “Shall we get going? I have a rehearsal early tomorrow for my upcoming concert. You know it has been a while since I have done one and I’m kind of, nervous.”

“Really, you nervous? You have done it a lot of times. Why don’t you ask Natasha to be a guest in your concert? I’m sure the fans you got through ‘Rent’ would love that as well. That way, you also get to spend more time with her. You two, look very good on stage and I’m sure a lot of people would like to see that chemistry on stage again.”

“Hmmm, that’s a wonderful idea, Stephen! I will suggest it to the producers.” Jeremy grinned, liking the idea. “I will have to persuade Nat first. She may not like to be a guest in my concert. She seemed reluctant, really, to be seen with me in big events these days! I wonder why.”

“Why don’t you find out? You have always been opened with each other, isn’t it? No harm in asking her. You might even be surprised with her answer!” Stephen remarked enigmatically. “So, you are really going for it?”

“Yes, I am.” Jeremy said with conviction, then he grinned boyishly, happy with his decision. “Thanks, Stephen for helping me sort things out.”

“For you, my friend, anytime. Good luck. Looking forward to be your best man.”

“Hahahahaha, that’s way to ahead! Thanks for wishing me good luck. I feel like I need it, tons of it, actually. I’m nervous.”

“You can do it man. Trust your feelings and trust what you and Nat have for the past several years.”

“I do, and that’s giving me courage.”

The two friends parted for the night. On the way home, Jeremy’s head was full of plans on how to let Nat knows that he loves her. That he wants to be her man, forever!

 

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Slow Burn – Chapter 1

Chapter 1

“Nat, please go with me! Please, please, please!” Jeremy pleaded with his long-time friend Natasha Reynoso one more time. He had been trying to convince her for half an hour, and she was not budging. “You know you are the only want I want to be with, when I attend those awards ceremonies! Don’t you want to share that moment with me, if I win?”

Natasha gazed at her friend of several years, Jeremy Ledesma, and his very handsome, boyish, pleading, please-save-me-again-Natasha-look and she does not really have the heart to deny him, even if would mean people speculating anew if they are more than friends. She can’t avoid it, and she should be used to it by now. Jeremy has always been in the limelight owing to the fact that he is the hottest pop singer in the country. While she on the other hand, is a theater actress, known too, yes, but not to the level that Jeremy is. Most people in the country probably came to know her, because of Jeremy, and not because of the roles she had played on stage through the years. They have been asked countless of times if they are a couple. But they have always maintained that they are just very good friends.

Who would have thought that they will end up the best of friends after meeting each other in the local production of the hit Broadway musical ‘Rent’. Jeremy had crossed over into theater that time, out to prove something – that he was just not just another pretty face who can carry a tune. She, on the other hand, at that time had several lead roles in musicals under her belt. After all, she was a theater baby.

Natasha had been on stage since she was a little girl, gravitating towards it naturally, owing to the fact that her mother was in the theater too, as a costume designer. She had encouraged Natasha to try the stage as it was her dream to be an actress as well, but she didn’t have the talent for it. Miriam Reynoso had switched career when Nat was four years old. Now her mother works as a flight attendant for an airline. Nat does not mind as her mother’s old life rubbing off her, or for encouraging her to go into the theater at a young age. If she had not taken a liking to it instantly, she would  have been glad to do this for her wonderful mother who single-handedly raised her after her father walked out on them when she was two years old.

Her mother told Nat when she turned 13, as she believed that she was old enough to know, that her father’s reason of abandoning them was that he needed to find himself. He found it another woman, a colleague, in the multi-national company where he still works. Despite this, her mom didn’t turn bitter towards love. She told Nat that sometimes, love and relationship just don’t work out the way you want it or wish it to be, but it does not mean you will close yourself off love or loving again. She said, love can be very beautiful with the right person. Nat thought otherwise. She had an inkling it took a long time for her mother to recover from her father’s betrayal. Despite what she said about love, until now her mother is ‘single’!  Nat had also seen the bad side of love too many times in her friends, and she refused to fall into the trap of loving someone too much, and getting her heart-broken in the process.

Jeremy was ‘Roger’ to her ‘Mimi’ in the musical which became a big hit with the local theater fans. Jeremy was described as a very soulful Roger, especially when he sang ‘One Song Glory’. People also noticed their onstage chemistry and the fact they became good friends after a few false starts fuelled speculations that there was more than friendship between them. People also  would see them together in concerts, even if it was not Jeremy’s and watching movies late at night, when they thought there would be fewer people to recognize them. It was not because they didn’t like the fans, but sometimes, they just want some private time to relax and be like ordinary people out for the night. She had been the person Jeremy confides to, even with his affairs of the hearts. While, he on the other hand, became her buffer against overeager suitors.

“Okay, okay, fine, I’ll go with you! Hindi naman talaga kita kayang tiisin!” Natasha said with a resigned expression, then asked before she can stop herself, “What happened to the girl you were supposed to be dating? The commercial model? I saw a cozy photo of the two of you in social media several weeks ago. Then there were write ups and alleged sightings of the two of you!” Then added hastily, “I have been meaning to ask you if it was anything serious, but you know I was busy with ‘Evita’!”

“Yes!!!! Thank you, Nat. You are the best! You are my one and only! Hmmm, about that girl, there is nothing to it.” Jeremy shrugged and fiddled with his drinks. The two of them were having their Friday bonding time at her place, something they have been doing after ‘Rent’, when both of them do not have commitments. There were times they can’t do this, and would just update each other through text or calls in between schedules. “I just met her in a bar one evening. She was actually with Stephen. She asked for a photo and I was just trying to be friendly since she is a friend of a friend, the next thing I know, our photo was plastered all over social media, picked up by showbiz blogs and speculated on. It was just that meeting, the other instances were not true.”

“Well, sometimes, I think you don’t really have an idea on how famous you are! But I guess sometimes, you can’t really do anything about it, aside from refusing pointblank, of course, but then you will get bash also, and may even be called suplado. Just keep your distance, if you can, so there wouldn’t be a chance for people to assume, or try to use or bash you.” Natasha advised Jeremy.

“Yes, I try, Nat. But sometimes, it’s difficult to strike a balance!” Jeremy said earnestly. “But I think, I’m done partying until the wee hours of the morning. I’m getting tired of the sameness of it. Haven’t been in a bar in weeks. You just didn’t notice because you were busy. I prefer your company more! Though, when you are busy, and I get bored, I go out with my friends, you know that, but that’s about it.”

“Don’t you get bored with my company? I’m kinda dull. See, if I don’t have a play or a musical to do, I’m just here at home, reading a book or writing the libretto of that original musical that is still in my head, that I dream of producing one day.” Natasha asked curiously, seriously. “I mean, you are young, you should go out. Don’t change your habit just because of me, and our Friday time. Di ba, you like going out before?”

“Yes, and you are young too, and should go out, if that is your premise. I prefer having quiet times with you like this. And most importantly, you are not dull!” Jeremy insisted. “Besides, you might get busy na naman with a new show, and I with my stuff, then we will not see each other for weeks!”

“Up to you, really Jer. And speaking of that, wish me luck! I heard from a friend that the producers of ‘Miss Saigon’ will be auditioning again for new cast members and since they got a lot of the cast members from here before, Manila will be their priority stop.” Nat said excitedly. It has been a dream of hers to be a part of a West End or a Broadway production even if it just in the ensemble. Maybe, she also needs a change of scene, so to speak. She had been feeling a bit restless and listless lately. The news about the possible audition perked her up.

“Really? When?” Jeremy suddenly sat up from his very comfortable position, with his head on Nat’s lap.

“Tommy, is not sure yet. But he is friend with the local agent that the production is using, so he told me, he will inform me promptly as soon as he gets a confirmation from his friend. Imagine, finally, my dream of going to West End or Broadway, is slowly shaping up. I do wish I will get in. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!” Nat said, hugging Jeremy unconsciously in her excitement. “You never know, maybe I can do it one go if I get in. Be both in West End and Broadway if I do good. I just read online that Miss Saigon will go back to Broadway in a year or two!”

“Really, not ‘if’, but when you make it, you will be abroad that long?” Jeremy asked, surprised, at the same time, feeling unsettled that Natasha will be away from him that long.

“Yes, why not? I’m okay with that. I don’t really have ties here, except this condo unit and Bubbles. And I’m sure you will take care of her for me, di ba, until I can send for her?” Nat reasoned out.

Bubbles is her cute orange tabby cat, a gift from Jeremy when she did ‘Cats’. He told her it was something to remember the musical with. He is thoughtful like that, giving her gifts associated with the milestones in her life.

“Yes, of course! But what about me?” Jeremy suddenly asked. Natasha has been his anchor in the ups and downs of his life, and suddenly he felt like he was going to be cast adrift. Then he realized, he does not have the right to ask that of her, as they are just friends. “ I mean, we will not see each other much anymore.”

“Well, you can come and visit me in London if I make it. You can even stay with me.” Nat offered. “Besides, we can always have our Friday time online. It’s easy to do that now with all the technology at our disposal. Come on, it would be fun! We can explore London and other parts of England, Scotland, Ireland or other countries in Europe during my free time and days. We haven’t been to Europe together. I know you have been, but me, no and I would like you to be with me, when I finally do!”

Jeremy grinned, liking the idea and the excitement he can see on Nat’s eyes.  It is Natasha’s time to shine, especially now that she had finally found the courage to spread her wings. He knows that with her talent, she will pass the audition. So, he is readying himself to months and months without her. Yes, there were times that they don’t see each other for weeks, but he knows that she is just there. She is just a car drive away, and a phone call away, on the same timezone.

“Okay, okay. You better save that spare bedroom for me, Nat. I’m gonna camp at your place for weeks and months if I can manage it.” Jeremy said, at the same time, it occurred to him that she might meet a guy there that she likes very much, and he would be the third wheel. He does not want to think about that now. “I’m sure you will get in. With your talent, no doubt about it.”

“Of course. It would have your name on the door of my other room, or my sofa since I may have to live in a small apartment to save on expenses!” Nat assured, smiling, at the same time, feeling sad all of a sudden. She has gotten used to Jeremy also and for the past years, this wonderful, misunderstood guy has been a big part of her life. The thought of not seeing him is also making her feel unsettled. “Thank you for your support, Jer. It is important to me. You know that of all people. I really value your friendship.”

“You have it, Nat for always. You are very important to me, too. You know that. You are a very big part of my life and what makes you happy, makes me happy too.” Jeremy said, putting his hand over Nat’s, and suddenly wishing that they can really be more than friends. He jerked at the thought. He hasn’t thought of that in years! He tried not to think of that in years. Her friendship is more important to him than them ending in a romantic relationship with her, and possibly, breaking up eventually. He had seen it happened to friends several times. He needed to think.

“So, would you like to watch another movie?” Nat asked suddenly, breaking into Jeremy’s thought. “Are you hungry, do you want more chips? I can also make you something heavier? I think I have enough ingredients for an omelette!”

“Thanks a lot, but I better get going Nat. It’s a bit late and I know you have not recovered your energy yet after your last show.” Jeremy, stood up. Natasha gave him the opening he needed. “I’ll pick you up on Wednesday, sixes, for that awards, okay. But do let me know if you hear something concrete from that audition before that, okay? And I’ll drive you to that audition, moral support, you know.”

“Sure. You rest too. I know you are busy for your upcoming concert also. I can go there on my own.” Natasha insisted.

“Nope, not negotiable! I want to be there for my best friend.”

“Thank you, Jer. You are the best guy friend a girl could have.”

Jeremy gave Nat a brilliant, boyish smile, and teased her by pinching her nose. “Of course, I’m one of a kind. I’m the one and only guy in your life.”

Natasha smiled, a bittersweet smile. That is true. Jeremy is the only guy that has gotten close to her this much. “Okay, go and drive carefully! Good night!”

Natasha moved to give Jeremy a goodbye kiss on the cheek. He turned suddenly, and instead of his cheek, their lips met. Without really intending to, Jeremy deepened the kiss and Nat responded. They stayed like that for a while. When they broke apart, both have startled looks on their faces. They realized what they just did, what had just happened. Strange, as they have kissed on stage before and it didn’t have this effect. Yes, there was something years ago, when they kissed, but it was not like this, wasn’t it? They gazed at each other again, then, both, as if by silent agreement, opted not to make a deal out of it then, unable to rationalize the feeling. They said a hasty good night.

Jeremy was out of Natasha’s place fast! He has some thinking to do, some serious thinking to do. He needed to think about what is happening. He though that he had buried it so deep, but apparently not!

 

Note: This has been in my head, and in my draft folder, for a while! This not a Richard and Maya story as you have read. I just needed to write another ‘Pippa-and-Ethan-kind-of-fiction’. I hope you will like this as well! 🙂 No worries, one of my New Year’s resolutions is to write more! I promise not to disappear for long periods of time! 🙂 I’m off to my favorite coffee shop again later. Yesterday, I took my daughter to the cinema and watched Snoopy and Charlie Brown: The Peanuts Movie with her!   ❤

 

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Unexpected Love – Chapter 21

Chapter 21

“Happy, Mrs. Bowman?”

“Very, very happy, Mr. Bowman!”

“I love you very much, darling!”

“I love you very much too, honey!”

“The start of our lives together, at long last!”

“I’m looking forward to that!”

“I am, too, darling Pip, especially to our honeymoon, finally!” Ethan teased Pippa naughtily, making her blushed.

Pippa looked at her husband with so much love, before whispering back, softly and with a naughty smile as well. “Me too, honey! Me too!”

Ethan grinned and gave his wife a quick, but searing kiss. Pippa shivered, feeling the effect of that kiss deep into her being, as always. Ethan didn’t know where he got the willpower not to make love to Pippa in the three months they have been engaged and was practically living together. There were times where they came very close to doing so despite his, and her, resolve! Yes, they found ways to express their passion and desire for each other, learned about each other’s body, to satisfy each other somehow, in the meantime slaked the thirst, so to speak, while counting the days until they will become husband and wife. However, despite all the intimacies they have done together, they had managed, barely, to stop making love all the way.

Ethan and Pippa looked at each other again, and with a heated promise to each other, they glided gracefully in front of their guests. This was their first dance as husband and wife, several hours after their beautiful and simple wedding at the Immaculate Conception Parish in Puerto Galera that morning, with their families and friends from England, Davao, Manila, and from Puerto Galera, in attendance.

Colorful capiz lanterns and floor to ceiling lamps made of native materials  illuminate the big open Anahaw pavilion especially built for Ethan and Pippa’s wedding reception at The Cove. Pippa’s mother insisted on building the pavilion to make her daughter’s wedding extra special. When Pippa half-heartedly protested that it may be over the top as she and Ethan only wanted a simple wedding, Mommy Marianne countered it by saying that it isn’t everyday that her only daughter is getting married. Besides, she said, it can be used afterwards as a wedding venue in the resort. Pippa stopped protesting and went along with what her and mother, her future mother-in-law, Virgie, and hers and Ethan’s wedding planner had suggested for their beautiful Filipiniana themed wedding. To complete the theme of the wedding, Philippine flowers and plants of all varieties were placed all over the pavilion and the areas around it, transforming it into a very beautiful tropical garden! It was picture perfect, and just the way Pippa envisioned her wedding to be.

Mommy Marianne sat closely with her balae and college friend Virgie, and her husband Colin, as they happily watched their children beautifully moving on the dance floor, with eyes only for each other. Both of them, while in college never thought that one day, their children will end up married to each other! But they were ecstatic that it happened. Seeing the happiness and the love between Pippa and Ethan, they couldn’t ask for more.

Mommy Marianne also wished then that her Tommy can see their daughter at that moment. She looked radiant. Her son-in-law, so handsome and looking so very much in love with her daughter. Mommy Marianne knew, doubly so that her daughter is in good hands. A mother couldn’t asked for more. Indeed, she had gotten a son in Ethan.

Virginia Bowman clutched her husband’s hand tightly as they, too, were very happy that Ethan has finally found a love that will last forever. After what their son had experienced almost a year before, they were very glad that he had bounced back and found true and lasting happiness in the arms of the lovely girl he had met unexpectedly. Love and happiness had found their son and they couldn’t ask for more. They just hope and pray that Allison will find the same happiness and love as  what her brother had found with Pippa! Meeting Pippa and learning that their son was engaged to be married was the best news they have received since their son informed them that he was finally coming home after several months of disappearing in Asia! Now, this! Their happiness is complete.

Three months after they got engaged, Pippa and Ethan finally had the wedding of their dreams! Her cousin Belle was Pippa’s maid of honor. Werner was Ethan’s best man. Isabel, Pippa’s business partner in the production house she formed after returning from England, was also part of the entourage. Some of Pippa’s friends at her old work also made it to the wedding, combining it with a vacation to Pippa’s family resort. Tristan and his clinic partner, Joshua were also in attendance, together with their ‘heartbroken’ nurses, Susan and Marita, teasing Ethan that their heart will not recover, seeing that he is married. Ethan and Pippa laughed at their antics. Tristan was part of the wedding entourage as well. Colin, from Ethan and Werner’s company was also there with his Filipina girlfriend, and Ethan’s close friends from England, Robert and Timothy!

Ethan’s family from Davao also attended – his Uncle Michael, Aunt Minerva and several other aunts and uncles, and Melissa, who like Ally, was a bridesmaid. It was a good thing, Allison made it to the wedding, having just had a vacation several months before!  She went back to England ahead of Pippa and Ethan. Ally made it to Mindoro several days after they have return home to tell Pippa’s mom of their engagement and their plans for the future. Pippa also updated her mother on her decision to quit her job and pursue her passion. As with her every endeavor before, she got the support of her mother, who was very, very happy on her engagement to Ethan. When Belle found about their engagement, she was ecstatic too. Tristan was also present when they informed their family and friends in Mindoro and he offered them his sincere congratulations. Ally had a wonderful week in Mindoro. She got along very well with Tristan, Joshua and Belle. When she leaving for England, Joshua, who was going to Manila at the same time for a conference, offered to take her to the airport. Ethan and Pippa promised Ally that they will travel to England as soon as they have manage to arrange things.

Ethan and Pippa finally got to visit the Bowmans in England more than a month after they had been to Mindoro to tell Mommy Marianne that they got engaged. Upon learning that Ethan was engaged to the daughter of her best friend, Virgie Bowman was ecstatic. She insisted on hosting an engagement party for Ethan and Pippa before they return to the Philippines for their family and friends in England who can’t make it to the wedding. She also insisted to Pippa that she would like to help in the planning of her only son’s wedding. So, when Pippa and Ethan went home from their month-long visit in England, the elder Bowmans traveled back to the Philippines with them.

Ethan also met with Claudia’s mother during their first week in England. He wanted to fully close that chapter of his life. She reluctantly agreed to meet him for coffee one afternoon at a neutral place for them after he told her that he would like to give her something that was of great value to Claudia. Pippa offered to come with him, but suggested that she can stay in the background as Claudia’s mum may not like it that Ethan was engaged to be married. Ethan said, it would be better if he does it alone, anyway.

The meeting between Claudia’s mum, Cordelia, and Ethan was cordial, but only lasted less than an hour. Ethan can see that Cordelia was not as composed as she should be when he gave her Claudia’s diary. Ethan hugged Pippa tight after the meeting. While it only lasted a short time, it had drained his energy. Several days after, he was surprised to received a call from Cordelia, asking him to meet again.

Ethan met Cordelia at a coffee shop near the Leicester Square Tube Station. Pippa went with Ally to Notting Hill. The two of them were planning to see what they can buy at the Portobello Road Market. Ethan saw a different Cordelia. She looked broken and sad. He guessed she had read her daughter’s diary. All she asked Ethan, when he sat before her, was to forgive her and to thank her for taking care of her daughter. She also said that she had hoped that one day she can forgive herself to what she had done to her daughter. Ethan softly told her that he hopes she will find peace one day. He said goodbye to her several minutes after. He and Pippa went to where Claudia was buried afterwards and offered a prayer for her and the baby. He felt so much lighter after they have done so. He was completely at peace, especially, he has the life he was making with Pippa to look forward to.

The rest of Pippa and Ethan’s stay in England was spent playing tourists in London and in nearby areas. One of the most memorable moments that Pippa and Ethan treasure was their London Eye ride. They kissed when they reached the top amid the magnificent scenery before them. It also reminded them of their Star City Ferris Wheel ride and their declaration of feelings for each other then. Ethan treated Pippa to a musical also in West End. They also drove around outside London and spent several days in Edinburgh and Glasgow in Scotland. They flew back after several weeks and got busy, only with the wedding, but their new jobs, Ethan in Werner’s company and Pippa with the production company she formed with Isabel. She had also launched her blog and it was well received. Several of her posts even went viral.

“Honey are you seeing what I’m seeing?” Pippa whispered to Ethan as they took one last twirl around as the music was ending.

“What?” Ethan asked, smiling, looking at the part of the pavilion where her gaze was, his brows knitted in curiosity.

Pippa pointed to where Tristan was sitting. He was scowling and the object of his displeasure was Belle, who was laughing hard at what Werner said. Pippa noticed it when they were rehearsing for the wedding. Werner was very attentive to Belle and he was very charming. He made Belle laughed a lot. She also noticed Tristan looking intently at Belle, but Belle was refusing to look at him. She tried asking her cousin several times if she and Tristan had a misunderstanding or something, but she changed the topic every time she asked. Pippa stopped prying. She felt that something happened to her cousin and their friend in between the time she and Ethan were in Northern Luzon and in England. It became obvious when they were planning the wedding. Belle was barely talking to Tristan, despite the fact that he seemed to want to talk to her. That evening, it was obvious that Tristan didn’t like Belle flirting with Werner. In fact, he looked very jealous. Pippa noticed that he had been looking at Belle closely, and there was that kiss after the bouquet and garter ceremony. It was Belle who caught the flowers and it was Tristan who got the garter. After he had put the garter on Belle’s leg, he looked at her with so much intent, then to hers and everyone’s surprise, he kissed her on the lips. Belle blushed and looked at Tristan with an unguarded expression, before she took on a neutral expression, then after a smile that seemed force, she went back to where Ally and other bridesmaids were sitting. Tristan walked away sadly, but with a determined expression on his face.

“Oh!” Ethan said, smiling. “Playing matchmaker, honey?”

“Hahahaha, this is looking very interesting, indeed!” Pippa said. “Parang alam ko na kung sino ang susunod na ikakasal sa atin! Though parang may hindi tayo alam. But I have a very good feeling about this two!”

Ethan nodded. “I think I agree with you on this dear wife! Pero parang marami pang kailangang gawin si Doc Tristan to win Belle’s heart. I wish him all the luck.”

The two of them shared a smile, then kissed as the music ended. They bowed to their guests. The end of their first dance was also the signal for everyone to go on the dance floor. When Pippa and Ethan were returning to their table, they caught a glimpse of Werner beating Tristan in asking Belle to dance. They smiled.

The party lasted for several hours more. Pippa and Ethan said goodbye to their families and guests late afternoon. They will fly to Palawan via a helicopter that was also part of the gift of Pippa’s godmother Evelyn to them aside from a week’s stay in her beautiful island vacation home. They have thanked Evelyn Romero, and her husband Raymond, earlier for their very generous gift to them.

“Pippa, Ethan, ingat kayo mga anak and enjoy your honeymoon.” A teary-eyed Marianne Montenegro told the newly weds, hugging them one after the other. “Ethan, take care of my daughter ha.”

“Yes, Mom, I will.” Ethan promised Marianne.

“Mom. don’t cry na. Akala ko pa naman tapos na iyan sa church.” Pippa teased her mother. “I love you very much.”

“I love you very much too, anak, and ikaw rin Ethan. Tears of joy naman ito mga anak. I am still having a hard time believing that my daughter has finally found her prince.” Mommy Marianne said, smiling happily at her daughter and son-in-law.

“Balae, I know the feeling. I’m happy too that my son has found his princess.” Mummy Virgie told everyone. “Enjoy your honeymoon, Pippa, Ethan. Don’t worry about us. Marianne and I, with your Dad, Ethan, are planning to take a trip up North as well, doon sa mga lugar na pinuntahan ninyo. Ally is joining us I think. Napag-usapan namin kagabi. We would like to see the place where Ethan proposed to you Pippa.”

“Talaga po! I’m sure you will like it there, Mum, Dad. I’m so glad also Mom that you are taking a vacation.” Pippa said happily.

“O sige, Ethan, Pippa, lumakad na kayo and baka gabihin pa kayo.” Mommy Marianne said.

Ethan and Pippa finally made it to the chopper a round of  hugs and goodbye to their well-wishers. They arrived at the beautiful  island as the sun was setting. They were welcomed by the caretakers and it seemed like another surprise was waiting for them. The whole place was filled with flowers and decorated with colorful lanterns.The place was fit for an unforgettable honeymoon. It was like stepping into their own private paradise.

Ethan carried Pippa over the threshold of the place after the thanking the caretakers and assuring them that they don’t need anything for the night. Manang Maring and Manong Banong told them that they will just be at their small hut at the far edge of the property should they need anything.

“Sa wakas, Mrs. Bowman,” he said with a silly, naughty and teasing grin. “Here we are!”

“Yes, my husband, here we are! Imagine, parang kailan lang I saw you chopping wood at my mother’s yard.” Pippa smiled at the memory, remembering that the first thing she noticed was Ethan without a shirt on. “Akalain mo ba naman!

“Hmmm, parang alam ko na ang ibig sabihin ng smile na iyan. Remembering that scene, parang I felt I was ogled as someone took a sip of Coke.” He teased. “Admit it, Pippa darling.”

“Hahahahaha, guilty. You looked so handsome kaya! Kahit na broken-hearted ako noon, I still have eyes.”

Ethan grinned, then cupped Pippa’s face. “And you looked so very lovely my darling, standing there, with legs that went on forever. My heart is so full that you are mine now. I never thought that I will feel this happy in almost a year after the most devastating thing that had happened to me.”

“Me too, Ethan. after the heartache, here I am, so well-loved by you. I love you very much so.” Pippa caressed Ethan’s beloved face.

Ethan lowered his lips to Pippa and gave her a searing kiss. Pippa kissed him back with all the love and desire she was feeling for her husband. Both of them thought at long last, here they were, in their wedding night! The kiss turned into more intense kisses, the desire they have ignited in each other turning into a conflagration. Ethan carried Pippa to the big bed, strewn with roses, laid her gently and started undressing her, slowly and maddeningly. He kissed every spot he had uncovered, sending volts of desire into Pippa’s. When he managed to remove every stitch of clothing, he looked hotly and with so much love at his beautiful bride, who also looked at him with eyes glazed with desire, and with all the love she was feeling. He undressed slowly and when he  had shed off all his clothes, he joined his wife on the bed and proceeded to love her gently, taking in consideration her innocence. They loved throughout most of the night and indeed, it was worth the wait. They only stopped when sleep beckoned and they can’t ignore it anymore. Ethan covered his and Pippa naked and sated bodies with a beautiful embroidered blanket he found at the foot of the bed. They slept for the first time as husband and wife, as close as two person could be.

Pippa was woken up with searing kisses the following morning. She smiled and looked at her handsome and wonderful husband with so much love. They shared a look and before long, they were kissing each other with abandon, wanting to satisfy the passion that ignited between them again. Ethan wanted to be gentle as Pippa might still be sore for all the beautiful loving they did the night before, but Pippa will have none of it. She took the initiative and their lovemaking was more explosive than the first time they came together. More than two hours later, they finally got out bed as they can’t ignore their hunger anymore. Pippa made them an omelette, just like the first evening they shared a meal. They went for a swim after their leisurely brunch.

Ethan and Pippa expressed their love for each other in every way they could in the days and night they have spent in that beautiful, secluded island. They were like in a world of their own.

“I love you very much, my darling.” Ethan whispered to Pippa as they sat on a blanket by the beach, watching the sun set the day before they returned to Manila. “I will love you until my last breath.”

“I love you very much too, honey. I will do the same. I will love no other. I’m looking forward to a lifetime as your partner and beloved wife.” Pippa said emotionally as she reclined against her husband’s chest.

Pippa turned and the two of them shared another smouldering kiss as the sun was setting. When the sun was but a small disc on the horizon, they returned to the house to have dinner and the night was spent loving each other again in every possible way.   Both of them knew even then that it will always be like this for them for the rest of their lives. Indeed, both of them were very lucky to find a love that would last a lifetime, unexpectedly!

 

Note: With this, I finally found my groove again, I think. 🙂  Sorry for just ‘disappearing’. I had writer’s block for some reason! I kept myself busy in the meantime (I also needed to help out my sister with her house moving), hoping to get out of it. Hopefully, I did!  I have started working on the last part of On the Street Where You Live as well.  

This ends Pippa and Ethan’s story, which is special to me too as this is my first non-RM fiction. Thank you very much for reading this as well, and supporting my other works. Next will be Doc Tristan’s and Belle’s story in Unrequited Love. Thank you very much, again, for the support. ❤

 

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Unexpected Love – Chapter 20

Chapter 20

“Excited, darling?” Ethan asked Pippa as the two of them settled more comfortably into the seats at the open part of the boat that would take them back to Puerto Galera from the Batangas Port, more than a month after they have left the island, one after the other. It was just four weeks ago, but it felt like ages as so many wonderful things had happened to them, so many beautiful places they have been, the warm and nice people that they had met, and the unforgettable experience they have shared together!

“Yes, darling, and I’m also quite nervous!” Pippa admitted, taking comfort in hers and Ethan’s clasped hands. This is it for them! They will tell her mother, that not only they are in a relationship, but that they are engaged, and would like to get married the soonest time possible.

Pippa and Ethan decided that they would like to get married at the place where they have met, Puerto Galera, and have the reception at Pippa’s family’s resort!  The honeymoon, they haven’t decided on a place yet, though they are thinking of Palawan, in a  small private island that belongs to one of Pippa’s godmothers. She has a standing invitation from her Ninang Evelyn to go and stay in the island, which is just being used as a vacation place of the Romeros and their families and friends. Pippa was actually planning to take Ethan and Ally to that place had their Palawan trip pushed through.

While Pippa and Ethan have called their respective parents during the two weeks that they have been traveling around Northern Luzon, they opted not to tell them about their relationship, and their engagement over the phone as they want to tell the wonderful news to them in person! They are planning to see them the soonest. In the case of Marianne Montenegro in two weeks time, which is in about an hour or so, and the Bowmans after a month, depending on what Pippa and her boss will agree on. She had decided to tell her boss that her decision is final, she is resigning from her job. Then, she and Ethan will travel to England to see his parents, and to give Claudia’s diary to her mum.

Pippa almost told her mother that she and Ethan are in a relationship when they talked to her briefly before their trip to Northern Luzon . But it was so new then, and she wanted to have a heart to heart with her mother about it. She was planning to call her and tell her about it, but she was the one who phoned and asked how she and Ethan were. The three of them ended up talking about their trip and Ally’s vacation in Mindoro. She felt at that time that there was just too much to tell her mother over the phone. She would tell her about all the wonderful developments when they see her.

Only Allison knows about their engagement. She phoned Ethan one evening and he admitted to her that he had proposed to Pippa at the Bantay Bell Tower! Ethan said his sister was being makulit as she knew that he was planning to propose to Pippa. He just asked her to keep it to herself as he and Pippa are planning to tell the parents in person. Ally told the two of them that of course, she will and that she is very happy for the two of them. She also informed Ethan that their parents will be home in two weeks time.

Pippa smiled and gave Ethan a kiss while the boat was under way to the port in the town, where they will be pick up by Mang Ben. Pippa had called her mother the night before. She told her that she and Ethan were back in Manila and that they will travel to Mindoro the following day. Her mother was happy know that and told them that she will prepare all their favorite dishes, and that Manong Ben will pick them up from the pier.

“What’s that all about darling? Not that I mind you kissing me! You may kiss me anytime, you know.” Ethan said smiling at the love of his life.

“Wala lang, honey, I’m just very, very, very happy! I will see Mom na, and also I was remembering your proposal and our trip! I can’t wait to tell her that we are getting married!” Pippa replied, looking again at her ring for the nth time. At times, it still feels unreal to her that she and Ethan are about to get married. It was already hard enough believing that they are in a relationship, that in just a short time after her heartache with Martin, she found the love of her life! “Sometimes, I feel like asking you to pinch me at baka kasi nananaginip ako!”

“You are not the only one, Pippa darling.” Ethan hugged Pippa and gave her a kiss on the forehead. “But what we experienced together so far, it is just the beginning of our wonderful journey together.”

Hugging each other and with loving smiles solely for each other, they passed the time by remembering their wonderful trip the past two weeks and the nights they have spent in each other arms, savoring the feeling of knowing that they are committed to each other for life. That their lives would be like that, in each other arms, sharing each other thoughts, sharing experiences, hopes, dreams and loving for always.

The first person who congratulated Ethan and Pippa when they got down from the bell tower was Manang Lucing and a group of tourists wanting to climb the bell tower after them. Ethan had asked Manang Lucing in secret to leave them alone in the bell tower as he would like to propose to his girlfriend. The old lady, a romantic at heart, was all smiles and readily agreed. She also promised him that they will not be disturbed while they were there. She also wished Ethan luck. Like what they have agreed on, after taking their photos, she went down to stand guard.

Seeing the ring on Pippa’s finger when they got out of the tower, and the happy smiles on their faces, she readily concluded that the proposal was a success. She offered her congratulations. The other tourists upon hearing this, congratulated them as well. They even teased Ethan na kaya pala ayaw silang paakyatin pa sa bell tower ni Manang Lucing eh magpo-propose siya! Ethan and Pippa thanked the old lady and their well-wishers. The two of them went back inside the church and prayed for the success of their relationship, and thanked God, again, for bringing them together.

When they returned to Mang Erning’s calesa, they told him of their engagement, unable to contain their happiness. The old guy was also all smiles, offering his congratulations. They continued their sightseeing tour, chatting with their kutsero about their relationship, and in the process, they also found out a bit about him, that he has four children, he and his wife has sent to school by sheer hard work, him as a kutsero and a handyman, and his wife as a weaver and a seller of cosmetic products. All of the kids had finished college and wanted for Mang Erning to retire as kutsero as they can provide for him and their mother. But Mang Erning told them that he likes what he is doing and chatting to very nice tourists like Pippa and Ethan makes him happy and it is his life now.

Hearing his story, Pippa asked him if she could write about his story in the blog she is making. Mang Erning he would be happy too as he would like other parents to get inspired into sending their kids to school no matter what and no job is too small or too ordinary basta love mo ang ginagawa mo. Hearing the old guy and his positive attitude, Pippa’s felt that she had made the right decision in pursuing her dreams too.

While they did their tour, Pippa interspersed it with an interview with Mang Erning, with Ethan acting as her cameraman. They also invited Mang Erning to lunch as a way of thanking him for showing them around and treat nila sa engagement nila. They also hired him for the rest of the day. Like what they have agreed on, he took them to a burnayan where Pippa tried her hand in making a simple burnay jar, while Ethan took a video of her doing it for her blog, as well as recorded her interview with the potter. They did the same thing in the weaving place where Mang Erning took them next. Seeing it, and trying her hand at weaving, Pippa realized how difficult it is, and how much work goes into a single inabel blanket.

Pippa and Ethan didn’t make it to Santa Maria and the Quirino Bridge that first day. They just went around Vigan and the nearby areas. They also managed to tour several ancestral homes, and also the Burgos Museum and had coffee at Calle Crisologo after they have said goodbye to Mang Erning, who wished them well on their upcoming marriage.

The rest of the evening was spent going around the streets of Vigan on foot and a romantic dinner at one of the ancestral homes in the city which has been turned into a hotel. When they returned to their hotel, like the previous night, Pippa and Ethan took turns in the bathroom before they retired for the night.

However, unlike the previous night, Ethan was waiting for Pippa when she came out of the bathroom. He was reading the book he was trying to read the night before, which he quickly put down when he saw Pippa getting out of the bathroom, wearing another of her sleep t-shirt. He patted the space on the bed beside him. Pippa went to him, sitting cross-legged, trying to comb her hair. Ethan took the comb from her hand, and combed her hair gently, massaging her hair in the process.

Pippa asked Ethan where he had learned to do that as he can make a fortune doing that, as it was very relaxing. Ethan sheepishly admitted to Pippa that was the first time he did it, and hoped he did okay. He did it instinctively as he just wanted to do something for her. Pippa thanked him and said he did good and that she enjoyed it very much. She was also touched that Ethan would do that for her. She turned to face him, their eyes met and they shared a kiss that led to so much more. However, before it could go any further and cross the point of no return for them, Ethan stopped, with difficulty. Haltingly, he told Pippa that he promised himself inside the church in Bantay that he would wait for the wedding night before making love to Pippa fully.

Ethan cupped Pippa’s face and gently told her that he knows that it is very important to her, that even if she is ready to make love with him, that act is something very important to her. She had waited for the right time for it. They might as well wait for the perfect time for it, which is their wedding night. He told Pippa he can wait, honest, cross his heart. He also teased her that it is going to be a big struggle, though, as seeing her, especially dressed like that  is temptation itself and he hopes he has the willpower of a saint to survive the coming months before their wedding.

Pippa can see in Ethan’s expression his resolve not to consummate their relationship before the wedding. She understood what he meant. Even when she said to Ethan almost a week before that she was ready to take their relationship to the next level, there is a part of her that is nervous of the unknown, that she needed to be eased into first. She loves Ethan the more for seeing that, and understanding. She kissed him softly on the lips and told him she loves him very much. Yes, they can wait! They went to sleep with arms around each other. Pippa slept promptly, while it took a while for Ethan to do so, praying then that he will survive the night, and the next night and the next without making love to Pippa.

Ethan did survive, barely, in the two weeks that they have traveled from Vigan, to Laoag, Paoay, Batac, Burgos, and Pagudpud, seeing the beautiful sites in these places – from the Paoay Church, to Kapurpurawan Rock Formation, to the Bangui Windmills which Ethan saying the only time he had seen windmills up close was at a farm in Denmark, then to the Cape Bojeador or the Burgos Lighthouse, down to the beautiful beaches of Pagudpud, marvelled at the Patapat viaduct engineering, also at the wonderful view and the seemingly endless sea one can see from there. Throughout their trip to the region, they also tried all the delicious local food, from bagnet to longganisa, to dinengdeng, empanada, pinakbet and some others with unusual names.

From the Patapat Viaduct, they drove to Cagayan Valley, stopping at Sta. Ana for their 45-minutes or so boat trip to Palaui where they spent most of the day, and from  Sta. Ana again, they drove to Tuguegarao for the night. They also explored a bit of Tuguegarao the following morning, they went to the centuries old cathedral there, explored other old churches in the nearby areas, and tried pancit batil patung, before they went to Callao Cave, taking a boat trip down the Pinacanauan River while waiting for the thousands of bats to come out from the cave at twilight. It was worth the wait and it was a sight to see!

From there, they drove down to  Isabela, and Nueva Vizcaya and up to Banaue, using it as a base as they explored the rice terraces there, and then the much beautiful one in Batad. After that, their trip took them to Bontoc, then to Sagada for several days, then to Baguio. The last leg of their trip was Pangasinan, to Alaminos for the Hundred Islands and Bolinao for the beaches there, and from there they traveled back to Manila. They arrived at Pippa’s condo the night before, rested a bit, then off to Batangas that morning for their trip to Puerto Galera.

“Why are you smiling and sighing at the same time?” Pippa asked Ethan, curious. They are about to dock at the Puerto Galera Muelle Pier, as from where they are, she can see that their boat was about to enter the lagoon that leads to it.

“Wala lang….” Ethan said, shrugging.

“Hmmmm, meron. I can see na meron.” Pippa insisted. “Tell me!”

“Okay, I will tell na.” Ethan said, then whispered, “I was smiling and was sighing because I just realized that I survived not making love to you while your delectable body was by my side every night. You don’t know how hard it was not to make love to you, you know. While I will miss you by my side when we get to your mother’s home, it is respite for me. Otherwise, I don’t think I will last longer.” Ethan confessed.

Pippa smiled, an element of mischief in it. “And I thought you were Mr. Cool all the time we have shared a bed. Maybe, I’ll sneak into your cottage, you know, make you lose that control.” She teased. But honestly, she too, thought that she wouldn’t last longer if she has to share another night with Ethan, especially now that they are not too tired from all the road trips they did.

“Pippa, darling, then I will break my promise to God.” Ethan smiled. He is sure Pippa will not do it. Despite the fact that she says she was ready for intimacy between them, she is a conservative girl at heart.

“Just teasing you, honey.” Pippa said, then gave Ethan a quick kiss. While they have not done the deed, so to speak, their sharing a bed night after night was not completely innocent. They have indulged a bit, testing the limits of their controls. Ethan also candidly answered all of Pippa’s questions about making love and intimacies between a man and woman, putting Pippa’s fear of the unknown to rest. “We really have something to look forward to on our honeymoon, Mr. Bowman.”

“We do, Mrs. Bowman-to-be. But I’m looking forward, not only to that, but to finally spending the rest of my life with you.” Ethan said, giving Pippa a gentle kiss.

“Me too, Ethan.” Pippa whispered.

The boat finally docked at the pier, and they saw Manong Ben right away, and he was with Pippa’s mother! She was supposed to be just waiting for them in the house. She waved at them as soon as she saw them! It also didn’t escape Marianne Montenegro’s notice the way her daughter and Ethan look at each other, not to mention their intertwined hands! There is something different about this two, she thought to herself. Meron na dati, pero parang mas meron ngayon!

“Mom, great to see you again!” Pippa hugged her mother tight and gave her a kiss.

“You too, anak! Na-miss naman kita ng husto!” Marianne said, then she looked at Ethan. “Ikaw din, Ethan!” She went to hug him as well.

“Hello, Tita Marianne! Glad to be back here in Puerto!” Ethan said. “Hello po, Manong Ben.” He said, waving at the old guy.

“Tara, sa bahay na tayo magkwentuhan.” Marianne Montenegro said. “Nagpaluto ako ng mga paborito ninyong food kay Doray. Hindi ko lang napigilang hindi kayo sunduin, hindi ako mapakali sa paghihintay. Kasi naman anak, I missed you ng todo-todo. Ewan ko ba, dati ka namang matagal hindi muuwi kapag marami kang trabaho, pero this time parati kitang naalala. Ikaw din, Ethan.”

The three of them walked to the car where Manong Ben parked near the restaurant where Pippa and Ethan had breakfast weeks ago. Ethan opened the door for Marianne first, then Pippa and sat with Manong Ben in front.

“Kailan pala ang dating ni Allison, Ethan? I thought kasabay ninyo na ni Pippa?” Marianne asked when they were on the road. “I forgot to ask you last night.”

“In a week’s time po, Tita Marianne. Nag-extend po siya ng kaunti pa sa Mindanao. Our cousins took her also to Iligan, Bukidnon, Cagayan De Oro, Camiguin and Siargao pala! She extended her vacation. Nag-enjoy!”

“That’s a lot of places!” Marianne remarked. “Pero I heard, magaganda raw sa mga lugar na iyon. Kahit sa Davao, hindi pa nga rin ako nakakarating. Your mum did ask me to go with her noong college kami, Ethan, pero hindi nagka-chance.”

“Oo nga Mom. Ethan and I would like to go to those places also.” Pippa remarked. “Gusto mo sumama ka na lang sa amin.”

“Kailan ninyo plano? Paano iyong work mo pala Pippa?” Marianne asked, surprised as her daughter rarely takes a vacation, and not this long.

“Oh, about that. Mom, I have a lot to tell you, pero can we wait until we get home, please.” Pippa said, hugging her mother and giving her a big, happy smile, before looking at Ethan and sharing something, a big something again.

Hmmm, now Marianne’s intuition and motherly instinct are working overtime. Marianne has an inkling that she is in for some big surprises! “Okay!” She simply said.

Soon after, they were in the driveway of the family home. Ethan opened the door for Pippa. Pippa in turned, extended her hand to help her mother out of the car. That was when her mother noticed the beautiful ring on Pippa’s finger. It looks like, it looks like, an engagement ring!!!

“Could it be??? Are they????” Marianne asked herself. Her heart also started beating fast, coupled with this, she remembered Pippa’s words early, that she has a lot to tell her. Marianne barely stopped herself from asking her daughter or screaming in delight at this development! She had hoped, wished and prayed that Pippa would find someone who will love her like she deserves to be love, and also wished that it would be Ethan, but she never expected that it will come true this soon! She felt very happy at the moment.

“Mom? Is something wrong? Bakit hindi ka pa bumababa?” Pippa asked, puzzled and then she saw where her mother’s gaze is. She smiled, blushing a bit. “Yes, Mom. I found my prince after all the ‘frogs’.” Pippa said softly to her mother, then looked at Ethan with so much love. Ethan looked at Pippa with the same expression. “Ethan and I are engaged, Mom!”

Marianne Montenegro slowly got out the car, like in a trance, then her face was wreathed in smiles, at the same time teary-eyed. She touched her daughter’s face. “Pippa, I’m happy to know.” She hugged her daughter tight, then looked at Ethan. “Come here,  Ethan.” She included Ethan in the embrace, then said, “Welcome to our family, Ethan.”

“Thank you very much, Tita Marianne. Sorry po, hindi pa namin nasabi ni Pippa sa inyo sa phone. Gusto po kasi naming in person sabihin sa inyo, pati na rin kina Mum and Dad. Kaya nga po kami umuwi ng mas maaga kaysa kay Ally so we can talk to you.” Ethan said.

“Oo nga Mom. Iyon po sana ang isa sa sasabihin namin ni Ethan sa inyo.” Pippa said. “Sorry po, naunahan niyo na kami.”

“Naku, you two owe me a lot of kwento talaga!” Marianne said, smiling through her tears of joy. “Hindi ko nga alam na kayong dalawa na. Though, I had an inkling that you two are heading in that direction. Halika pasok na tayo sa loob so we can get settle in and so you can tell me the whole story from the beginning. Who would have thought ha pag-alis mo last month, Pippa anak, pagbalik mo magkaka-son-in-law na ako. And Ethan before I forget, call me Mom na rin, no more ‘Tita Marianne’!

“Yes po, Tita….Mom.” Ethan grinned, so happy that everything is okay with Pippa’s mom. He and Pippa shared a looked and his happiness was also reflected on her face.

The three of them entered the house with arms around each other. As Manang Doray serves merienda, and with Pippa and Ethan holding hands, they told Marianne Montenegro how their relationship started and how it led to Ethan proposing at the Bantay Bell Tower, two weeks before. Pippa’s mom was smiling all the time they were telling her. She was very happy for her daughter and she couldn’t ask for a better son-in-law! She is so looking forward to finally having grandchildren to spoil!

 

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