She's yours. You're mine.
There was something seriously wrong with that. I realized that it bothered the hell out of me.
I put a hand against Rob's chest and angled my face downward, so that his lips landed on my temple. He grumbled softly in protest and released his hold on my upper arms. "Not here," I said quickly, peering up into his face. I silently prayed he would accept the fib that would buy me a little bit more of thinking time.
To my relief, he flashed me that signature smile, slow and meant to tantalize. His hand covered around mine and I didn't shake it off.
The few seconds that took to walk to my door, slide the key into the lock, turn the knob and let Rob into the apartment passed by as if in slow motion – the exact opposite of the onslaught of thoughts tearing through my mind.
Why did it sound as if everyone was giving me away? Wasn't that my choice to make? Wasn't it ultimately up to me? They made it seem like I didn't have a say in this. That left a very ugly taste in my mouth. That was downright wrong and uncalled for. Was I a mere object that could be passed around just like that?
Rob pulled me against his body as soon as the front door clicked shut. His eyes sparkled with pleasure, his hold on me possessive and intimate.
It wasn't panic or anger that swelled inside me. It was a much quieter, calmer emotion that I couldn't exactly put a tag on. I instantly lay both hands against his chest, stopping him firmly.
He looked down questioningly at me, a little bit impatiently. His lips were pursed, his brow curled, as if saying, what's the hold up now?
I'm not yours.
"I'm not yours," I whispered.
Every word dripped with the truth, blatant and resolute. Saying them out loud made my pulse race at breakneck speed, but made my resolve stronger and more urgent.
My heart didn't belong to Rob. Not anymore. Not for a long time.
The feelings I had nurtured for him all those years ago hadn't returned. He just proved to be a temporary distraction, something to keep me occupied, something to feed my hungry need for attention. It was stupid and shallow and completely inconsiderate, but that didn't make it less true.
I was not his. Not his to give away, not to own. Not to love. Not to anything.
But more important was the bigger realization that my heart did belong to someone. Whether or not Rob was in the scenario, the fact of the matter was, my heart only contained one entity. It shouted one name.
It was Jon Aurelio.
The thought danced in my mind, sending a lovely shot of heartfelt happiness to travel all throughout my body.
That was the reason my mind took me back to that very scene of our first kiss, right before he wrongfully surrendered me to Rob and left. That fairy tale kiss, the one that put Sleeping Beauty and the Little Mermaid to shame, was the trigger that broke the evil curse.
But unlike my passive childhood heroines, I had to fuck up and make a mess out of everything first before I met my happy ending. There were spells to repel, dragons to slay and obstacles to overcome – in this case, a smooth-talking, persistent frog that was insanely difficult to reject.
That frog, after the kiss – and some other things – apparently wasn't the one I was madly in love with. It was actually the real prince. I was just too caught up in the stupid fairy tale to understand magic was already staring me in the fucking face.
I'm the Disney princess with a potty mouth.
Back to that first kiss. It was the stuff that dreams were made of – sweet, heart-fluttering dreams that turned hot and sexy in a matter of seconds.
I initially had wanted the afternoon to end because the grass against my legs had already swung from ticklish to itchy and the intense heat was threatening to sucker punch my deodorant's 24-hour promise.
But then Jon's lips softly landed on mine and my eyes fluttered close. My fingers released the kite and moved to rest against his shoulders. With his hands urging me closer and making me feel bolder, I let mine travel along the planes and curves of his back. I found a new need for the afternoon to extend – and turn into night and transition to day and continue doing so without ever letting this man go.
I love him. I do want to spend the rest of my life with him.
It was this overwhelming feeling that wrapped around me as I stood there in the small living room of my apartment. But I had to push it aside as I watched Rob come to terms with what I had just spoken.
And he stood there as well, looking back at me. If I knew anything about Rob Jose, it was the fact that he was everything else but dense. When he sucked in a deep, difficult breath and with eyes that were hurt and bewildered, I knew he already guessed that the sadness and remorse painted on my face was for him.
But he was quick to mask the understanding that dawned on him. He wasn't the kind who just accepted defeat. Maybe it was a consequence of being him – naturally charming, good looking, well to do, used to being said yes to. He got what he wanted most of the time; he wasn't so accustomed to disappointment. And whenever he didn't get his way, his automatic reaction was to put up a fight and seek out a win.
"What do you mean?" he said slowly, looking at me with careful eyes that knew exactly what I meant.
I just stared back at him and said nothing.
His eyes narrowed, his upper lip thinned. "Is this because of him?" he asked testily. Of course he was referring to Jon. "Don't be stupid, Kara. He just left. He left you."
He just left. He left you.
I took the jab amazingly well, considering the gaping incision it instantly left in my heart. In fact, I felt a faint smile settle on my lips. It was at that point I realized similarly that whether Jon was in my life or not, Rob Jose was sadly still not an option. The love I had once reserved for him had already expired. I just… wasn't in love with him.
"Rob," I said, as gently as I could, "I'm not yours." After all, what was there to say? "I'm sorry, Rob."
The look on his face battled between disappointment, fury and shock. He couldn't believe it. This never happened to him. He was probably more used to doing this instead of being on the receiving end of such rejection. I mean, he did it to me!
"Then why did you do it? Why?" he ground out angrily.
I felt my mouth go dry. I felt my eyes close. My mind tuned out for a couple of moments.
This scene was too familiar. It was practically deja vu. We could be leaning against his car in the dead of night, smoking cigarettes and speaking in low tones in the thick darkness. We could be standing in the middle of a deserted street, hurting and being hurt, putting an end to a fiery affair.
But this time around, I was the cruel, heartless bitch who used him for my own selfish reasons. For entertainment. For sex.
Don't mistake the sex for something else. It was just sex. His harsh declaration echoed in my head, spoken years ago, but still crystal-clear in my mind. I realized immediately I wanted desperately to borrow the very same words – to lash out, to hurt him back, to permanently shut him up.
I do care about him, more than I do about you.
"It's like I've done this before," I mumbled out instead.
He laughed humorlessly, quickly catching on my train of thought. "Coming full circle now, aren't we, Kara?" he said bitterly. "Go ahead, say it."
My calm gaze rose to meet his furious stare, even when I felt a flicker of annoyance rise in my gut. Don't stoop down to his level, I told myself. He just wants to save face. He wants to pass the blame on to you.
"What's the matter, Kara? Can't say it?" he asked mockingly.
"Stop it, Rob," I commanded quietly. You really want me to say it was just about sex? Or you want to hear that I don't love you? I really just might if you don't shut your trap!
But Rob didn't want to listen. "Now you understand. Now you know what it feels like to be the asshole," he sneered, nearing his face to mine. "Why don't you just go ahead and say it? Say it!"
I shot him a hard look. "I told you to stop – "
"I know it was just sex, Kara." He began to walk in a circle around me. I could feel his hot breath against my neck, the way he stood so near me. "You want to have a go at it? Right now? One last time?"
"Don't you know when to shut up?" I snapped. "It doesn't – "
"Come on, Kara. Isn't this what you want? Hard and fast, right?" He suddenly grabbed my left hand and placed it on his crotch. I began to pull away in protest, but he kept it in place with a steely grip. He started to rub my palm against his surprisingly hard erection. "We can fuck one last time, just before you and your fucking boyfriend do it – "
Oh my God, this isn't happening. My irritation swiftly mutated into horror, spreading across my chest and choking the breath out of me. I need to get out of here!
"No, Rob, let go of me!" I grunted, trying with all my might to wrangle out of his hold.
But he forgot logic and reason at that point. He was blinded by rage, urged on by anger. He ensnared my torso with his other arm, pinning me tight against him. Then he clamped his mouth on the base of my throat and started to kiss and suck on my skin hungrily.
I'm not getting raped in my own apartment. No, I'm not!
"Let me go!" I managed to wriggle an arm free from his bruising embrace. With all the strength I could muster, with the burst of energy my fear and panic lent, I smacked the side of his face with a tightly-rolled fist.
That's what you call a hammer fist, I dimly heard Jon teach me in my mind.
With that, Rob tumbled down on the carpeted floor with a surprised yelp.
I prepared myself to flee, to run down to the salon and beg Manay Maria for help. But when I turned to see what Rob was about to do, I saw what I didn't expect to – the look of defeat and exhaustion on his face. His brows were still pulled together in a frown, but his mouth was slack, his gaze tired and wary. He sat on the floor with his legs spread out, his hands loosely clasped across his stomach. He made no move to stand up. I finally allowed myself to sink into the couch, legs wobbly and emotions awry.
I stared at him. He stared back. We both sat there, our glaring getting angrier with each passing second, silently exchanging hate and blame, both shallow-breathed and morose.
His sullen stare gradually softened as more slow moments ticked by. His clenched jaw relaxed, his face grew contemplative. He leaned his head back against the wall, just considering me carefully.
What's he thinking now? I couldn't let my defenses weaken, in case he got some funny ideas. I directed my weight on my right leg, prepared to sprint to the door. Stay alert. Get ready to run anytime.
But the next words that fell from his lips rendered me immobile.
"How will I let you go?" Rob asked quietly. Such simple, sad words.
I felt my heart break for him. "Rob – " I began to say, my voice hoarse.
He held up a hand, asking me patiently to let him finish. I bit my lip and nodded mutely.
His voice swelled with thick emotion. "I don't want to stay away. I don't want this to end here. But I know I have to." He paused, just wringing his hands and staring blankly at a random spot on the floor.
"Tell me, Kara – what will it take to shake this fucking pain off? I want to drink something – hell, I want to kill something!" He let out a laugh, forced and joyless. "But what good will that do when I'm in love with you and you're not?"
"Oh, Rob," I whispered. But you're right – I don't love you. I love Jon. It has always been him.
It was as if he had read my mind. Small globules of moisture appeared at the outer corner of his eyes. His lids, the tip of his nose and even his ears had turned a dark red shade. He lowered his head as the tears began to run down his cheeks.
Oh my God.
I hadn't seen that coming. I absolutely did not anticipate that. I sat there, frozen in place. I didn't know if I should scoot to sit next to him on the floor and wrap a comforting arm around him or just let him cry it all out by himself.
He really does love me.
The one thing I had prayed so hard for – for him to love me – had finally come true. Those nights I either spent crying myself to sleep or drowning myself to a drunken stupor and the waking hours I acted half-dead – the memories rushed through me. They suddenly didn't matter anymore.
But it wasn't because of Rob. It was because of someone else. He was two years too late.
And it was at that moment that I realized something very important to the equation – just as he had been mine, I was Rob's flaw too.
I was the one he had broken all his personal rules for, the one he had gambled on and risked so many things for. I was the one ultimate mistake that he made in his life, the one that would haunt him forever, the one that would consequently affect all the decisions he made from here on.
I was his flaw. His and his alone.
But recognizing this brought me neither comfort nor a sense of triumph. In fact, it left me hollow.
But perhaps it also granted me a more sensitive understanding of his pain, his despair. It was exactly the same emotions that twisted and gnawed at my insides all those years ago as I listened to him say he didn't care about me the way he did about Katrina. And it was utterly depressing, sucking the happiness out of my entire being and replacing it with scathing insecurity and a torrent of questions I had no answers to.
"I'm sorry," I repeated softly, sadly. "I wish I knew the words to tell you just how sorry I am for doing this to you."
And then, Rob surprised me. After all this time, he still had that uncanny ability to.
"Fuck you," he swore. But his tone was embarrassed, self-deprecating. In fact, he was laughing while brushing the tears away from his already swollen eyes. He seemed like he was making fun of himself.
You're worse than me doing a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was my first mystified thought. I grasped around for something safe to say, but I was afraid of treading on dangerous ground. So I kept my mouth shut, my expression still guarded.
"Fuck you for making me cry," he chuckled, leaning his forehead against a hand and closing his eyes. When he opened them again and found me staring at him, rather dumfounded, he flashed me a wry, lopsided smile. A real smile.
I knew instantly what it was – an apology, a peace offering.
I felt a small smile form on my lips as well. "You talk too much, Rob Jose."
Another laugh bubbled out of him. He wiped the remnants of his tears with the handkerchief he pulled out from his pocket. "So I've been told," he admitted, "so many times before, by none other than you, Kara Florendo."
"Must be true, if I keep on repeating myself," I teased lightly.
"'Tang ina. I didn't know I still had active tear ducts," he said, shaking his head.
"Active tear ducts and active stalking skills," I said dryly. "I've actually been meaning to ask – how ever did you get my office line?"
He grinned. "Long story."
I threw my arms above my head and rested my head against my clasped hands. "I'm all ears."
"Neil Alfonso? My cousin. Told him to seek you out," he confessed. Neil was the marketing manager of a new apparel brand that my team had won the pitch of a communication campaign for earlier this year.
"Neil?" I repeated, wincing. How random. And how far from my hunch of Vicky Bacani.
Guess I have some serious explaining to do.
I sighed and draped a hand against the nape of my neck before answering his raised eyebrows. "Gave Vicky some major flak about that," I muttered.
"Vicky? Your friend Vicky?" He slowly shook his head. "You're quite the bitch, aren't you?"
"At least not the one bawling his eyes out like a baby a while ago," I shot back haughtily. "Who's the bitch now?"
We laughed. We actually did.
He smiled at me. I smiled back. The atmosphere became a lot calmer, a lot less strained. So vastly different from just a few moments ago.
But of course, something still hung above our heads, waiting to be acknowledged.
"Come here," I heard myself say almost inaudibly, lowering my eyes.
He followed obediently. He hoisted himself off the floor, crossed the room and positioned his body to sit next to me on the couch. And without the devil possessing him just minutes before, he kept still and just gazed solemnly at me, waiting for what I had to say.
I perfectly understood that Rob's offensive behavior earlier had been provoked by his grief and anger, blinding him and forcing him to want to hurt me. But I still had to exert extra effort in calming my wildly beating pulse before I leaned against him and wrapped my arms around his waist.
His quick gasp was audible, but he quickly regained composure. "Kara," he sighed. He enfolded me in a tight embrace, burrowing his face in my hair and softly rubbing my arm with a thumb. I relaxed into our position, allowing myself to enjoy the crisp, masculine scent of his cologne and the familiar warmth his body provided.
It was a comfortable silence, but one that we both knew was not going to last for long.
"I'm going to miss you," he whispered raggedly, clutching my shoulders tightly.
I didn't lie. "Me too." I felt sadness and regret tear at my heart.
I felt a few drops of tears trickle down the side of my face – from his eyes or mine, I couldn't really be too sure I was able to tell.
"Last time," he breathed against my forehead.
"Last," I affirmed softly with a nod.
His lips on mine was feather-soft. It was like the kiss you felt in dreams – the kind you couldn't decide if it really happened or not.
When I opened my eyes, I was alone in my quiet apartment, the front door left slightly ajar.
Rob Jose was finally gone.
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