Just when you think you had all the possible outcomes jotted down in your head, this happens.
When you learned to read the words on your skin, it wasn't a big deal. You were young, and you didn't know how heavy those words usually meant, and heavier they could be when written like that. You didn't know what to make of the stares it got you, from your own parents, family, and strangers. You didn't care much; you were a kid, who didn't know about the thing they call fate and red strings.
When you began to understood how the world worked, you found out that you could never experience it as everyone does. Your world was vivid in colors, and they seem to vibrate with your touches, but they are muted- they say. You didn't know such a word existed until you knew what noise was like. It was then that you started to pick apart the words on your skin. Once, they didn't matter. Now, they seem to carry a heavy weight and a searing reminder that digs into the pores of your being.
When you knew how to listen, you instead indulged in the silence that you grew familiar with. Sure it could be tough, not hearing what the others say or what the world was up to. But you didn't think that you needed it all the time. You've already learned how to read their lips and understand what they don't say, so why bother? Words weren't always truth, but actions were. So why should you indulge the sound, when you can have peace? Not to mention, it was nice not having to deal with headaches when the noise becomes too much.
The only sounds you tolerate were the ones that made the earth shake, the leaves rattle, and the ones that raise the hairs on your skin. Vibrations that make people laugh, cry, or simply sing or dance to. Music. Everytime their waves reach to you, you feel it as if it was alive, coaxing you with fluttery touches. You feel its beat that somehow never fails to affect everything around it. Music was the only sound you loved to hear when you ventured into the land of the living. For the longest time, it was your comfort. It was your distraction from the curved letters inked into your skin that seemed to speak to you, call to you, in different ways that only frightened your own heart. Music became everything to you, so much that it became your passion and profession.
While all the people you know rejoiced or got pleasantly confused by their marks, yours was a straight up apology. In the deepest recesses of your soul, you already knew why. So everytime you stared down on your black-stained wrist, you dreaded it. You feared it. You shut the world out and took refuge in silence, because even though you knew pity and apology in all its forms- you run from them. You especially don't want to hear it from the very person who's supposed to hold half of your heart.
You don't know when you started looking away, too. When was it when you began blatantly ignoring what they believe as destiny and fates? Too long ago, probably. You're older now, hopefully wiser, and yet you run from the things you know will hurt you. You pour your words in ink unto paper, hoping they don't escape your lips like buried secrets. You pour your soul into the notes you string together, even when most of the time you only feel them instead of hear them. It's the only way you know how to cope with your own silence and fears.
So when he came to you, unexpectedly, like a hurricane, your world trembled. Many people have said those words, but no one has made you feel like the earth was rattling under your feet. Even when your first instinct was to run, your body betrayed you as you stood there frozen. Even when you couldn't hear the words properly, they ring inside your head. Even when you closed your eyes, it's too late because he's already seared himself into your mind.
Your hands balled into fists, afraid that you might do something stupid- like maybe.. maybe, reach out. It's all you could do against the onslaught of sensations he brought with him. He carried an entire universe in those eyes. He brought a soft, gentle wind and a scent you instantly recognize as spring and strawberries. He moved like he used to dance; that his muscles were accustomed to move in beats.
He.. He spoke with an apology, and your skin burned. Scorched. Each curve and line dug deep until you bled, burned, froze and suffocated on the inside.
And when he smiled, you knew it was over. Your legs had given out, and you thought-maybe.. maybe you just got tired of running. A small voice at the back of your head told you otherwise. It said you've gone completely soft and now subjecting yourself for a world of hurt just for holding onto a shred of hope.
"Ako nga pala si Stell! Nice to meet you!"
His name is Stell.
Well, no, his full name is Stellvester Ajero. Stell is shorter, even if you already memorized his name along with the features of his face.
He is one noisy fellow. Your ears hurt for hours now for having been turned on for longer than you're used to. You'd usually balk and scuttle away now, but you don't. He's moved on from profusely apologizing to making small talk with you in a coffee shop, waiting for the rain to stop. He only takes a second to notice the device behind your ears before flashing that illegal smile. He asked if he could buy you coffee in exchange for your ruined shirt and paperworks, and took space in front of you. Then he pretended to work (like you were, too) on his own laptop before a small piece of paper shuffles towards you.
His handwriting reminds you of your own tattoo. You both pretended not to see the trembling on your fingers when you wrote back.
Your coffee-decorated paperwork now has dried for hours now. Stell's laptop might as well be forgotten. You don't know how much time had passed, but when you both look to the window, the sun has set and the clear skies are in a lovely shade of blue. The rain has stopped.
Stell hurries, muttering about being gone for too long as he scrambles for his things. While you're still reeling, scrambling for your own thoughts and battling the needy, clingy voice that screams "Don't go!", he slips the last note towards your space. Numbers. He gives you a cheeky, embarassed smile. He's gone before you could even haul the courage to say a syllable.
Stell is a performer. He's a singer, dancer, choreographer, and part of a group that's famous enough to gain a loving fanbase.
Stell loves strawberries. And he is sweet, jovial, and a tease to their fans. Honestly, he's not any different to the man you bumped at the coffee shop.
He spams your inboxes. What he couldn't write fast enough on paper, he does in an alarming speed on chat.
He's friendly. It's not surprising, considering he sat next to a stranger on a rainy Friday, talking at said stranger. For someone of his status, though, you worry a little about how gullible he seemed to be.
Stell is soft-hearted. You watch his videos and fancams, and you exchange banters and stories in your inboxes and think that yeah, he is kind of noisy, too cheerful, teasing, but he's also soft-hearted. For one, he doesn't make you feel like an invalid. It took only one smile from him to get his bearings and talk in your own terms while not making you feel guilty for it.
His fans call him sunshine boy, and you know that as truth. In fact, you write all these down and you begin drawing your muse from it. The empty papers suddenly come alive with words you write on them. You pretend that the curve of your lips upward was only there because finally you found your lost inspiration.
The ink on your wrist burns all the same. You don't care. You've found your sun, and it doesn't matter if it burned you in the end, if it meant relishing in its warmth for some time.
Stell doesn't have a soulmate. That's what he says.
He tells you this soulmate fact about himself after four months of knowing each other. He tries not to sound so mournful about it, but you catch what he tries not to say anyway. Your own heart screams in your ribcage, demanding to be let out and be spoken-but you stopped yourself with great effort.
If someone was to receive the burning end of this string, it should be you. It should only be you. After all, he doesn't deserve someone like you when you couldn't even say his name without suffocating.
Instead, you tug at his hand and drag him to the nearest amusement park. It's one of those rare Sundays that you get to meet, having different and busy schedules. You're not about to ruin it with a confession so you take it to yourself to make him smile instead. He loves places like this. When he asks you how you know, you only shrug and smile, pointing to the YouTube video of their group.
Stunned, he blinks at you several times, "Alam mo?"
His eyes swim in different emotions altogether that you're afraid looking into them will drown you. So instead, you mask your face in the most deadpan manner and roll your eyes at him. You point at the ride and squeeze his hand.
He sputters out a laugh. Your damned ears could barely hear it against the noisy crowd, but you could feel the tremors of it as you held his hand. Your entire world shakes with it.
"Teka, teka, date ba 'to?"
You dramatically sigh, even when your insides have begun their violent explosions. You shrug once again, staring at him until he gets the message. In reality, you are so damn afraid to see his reaction that you can't look away.
His face just lights up a little more, grinning. He squeezes your hand back, "Ano ba yan, wala namang pasabi!"
Maybe.. maybe it is a date. To Stell, it might just be a friendly joke. To you, it was a miracle.
You don't go for a day without receiving a message from each other. Sometimes they're spaced so far apart, but you're both contented wit h the connection. Or at least, you are. Since Stell doesn't complain (he usually is the noisy complainer), you assume this is okay.
Your mark still burns everytime you think of him, but you're beginning to feel immune. Under the thick band on your wrist, you feel it taunt you, but you learned to ignore it. You only have to think of his smile, his laugh, his tactile affections- and you carry on. You swore to protect him, even from yourself.
You continue being friends, and you dance around the questions like two people cuffed together and dancing tango. Neither questions each other's presence and what it was. It just.. is.
You think that you could live with this, and that's okay. Stell seems to be doing fine too except when the topic of soulmates come up. So that's okay too, you guess.
He becomes comfortable enough to share his troubles with you. It's mostly work that he's stressed about, and he apologizes many times before he confesses all his thoughts to you. Every time, you tell him it's okay and you thank him for trusting you.
You tell him he's always welcome, but you don't actually expect him to come to your doorstep at 1AM, shoulders slumped, head bowed, teary eyed. You can't help but pull him inside, even if you're not the slightest dressed for any occassion. You're in sweatpants and nothing else, for god's sake!
"Pano kung hindi kami enough?"
"Pano kung di nila magustuhan?"
"Pano kung wala nang nag aantay?"
You blink the sleepy haze from your mind and think back on the recent events surrounding your famous friend. He once teased you for a whole day for making a fan account, but honestly? It was still a good decision since you get to be in touch of what kind of world Stell lives in. It was to be a reminder of what you shouldn't do and shouldn't feel, for the sake of your friend. Anyway, you dredge up enough details and connect the dots together.
You nudge his thigh and you show him your phone, with a typed message. 'Nonsense. They'll wait for you for as long as they can. You're their role models after all.'
Stell looks thoroughly unconvinced. You sigh, take his cold, cold hands and rub your thumb on them until they feel a resemblance of heat. You hate seeing him like this, defeated and scared. If you could, you'd do everything so he won't feel this way again. You must be this bad because you're into deep in this stupid thing they call fate.
'Trust yourselves. Trust the process. Everything will follow.'
A few days later after that incident, he messages you that he wants to come over again. Which is good, better actually. You're dressed like a human being when he arrives and he teases you in his usual charming self, "Sayang naman, di na nakahubad."
You probably made a pretty unpaintable face since he just laughed and then proceeds to make your brain and heart shortcircuit.
He's already moved on though, like he always does. He's a hurricane you could never hope to stop so you just let him be. He's holding a flash drive, one finger to his lips.
He asks for the speakers in your humble abode, then plays an entirely unfamiliar song. You just know it even without your ears. You've unabashedly played all their songs a thousand times on your speakers enough that your floors and walls vibrate with it everytime. Of course you've become familiar with them, and this.. whatever Stell was playing, it was new.
Your eyes bulge and you turn to him immediately. He suddenly looks shy.
"Kasi diba composer ka? Kilala naman kitang perfectionist kaya alam ko kung magpapreview ako sa'yo, totoo lang ang sasabihin mo." He mouths.
Your heart flutters and your insides feel too warm that it almost makes you cry a little.
You smile and shake your head. Before he says something else, you touch the pads of your fingers to the speakers. You close your eyes and the entire world fades away, leaving you nothing but the silence, the vibrations, and the hint of strawberry scented perfume.
It's an upbeat song. Catchy, but most of all, alive and tugs at your heartstrings.
When you open your eyes again, the music has already ended. He's staring at you again, and you can't for your life, discern it. You grin and give him a thumbs up.
Later, you listen to the song again with your ears on- but only because he's singing to you. Alab, he says as the title. And oh, what a coincidence because you're feeling exactly the same. Burning. And it starts with the mark on your bare skin.
'Not bad.' You sign out of habit. You were always careful before so as not to confuse your friend, but this time it slipped. Instead of the usual confusion though, he lights up and points to you excitedly. "Alam ko yan! Alam ko yan! Inaral ko yan!"
He laughs giddily, "Final na yan ha? Sure ka talaga??"
You hope you weren't too obvious when you were helplessly staring at him, falling just a little bit more.
A song quietly buds in your chest, and you dream of singing it to him. You don't know how your voice will turn out, but you just dream of it and it's nice. It's something to look forward to even if it's a bold-faced fantasy. You can barely string together syllables, and you can bet your life that your own voice sounds like glass scratched against concrete. Most importantly, if Stell knew.. oh, if he knew..
Like you always do, you nurture the small, tiny bud, and make it grow. You pour your heart and soul to it even at the promise of never letting it see the light of day. Like many of your written words, they will remain there-unspoken, but at least revealed to what little part of reality you live in. On those words you carved your growing love for your him, hoping it would help you hide it better-hoping it wouldn't spill out of its confines for just one more day.
Because Stell is happy. His career is booming. His life is happy. He whines and mourns about not having a soulmate, but he's positive he'll find the one eventually. You hope to all the gods he does, because you don't like to think that it's you (of course you pray that it's you). He deserves better. Not you.
You hope that this is still okay, even if the burning on your wrist feels like it's already spread to your chest, scorching your lungs everytime you think of him.
You should have known better.
Stell, with his unknown powers, finally manages to drag you out to into the sun and meet his circle of friends. He corners you after one of the many events you attended just to see him perform. You couldn't say no. Not when all the time he was up stage, he kept glancing to you more than usual.
He's so proud that you can see it in those eyes. You can't bear to look at them. But you try to be your best self in front of his four bandmates. They are a bunch of noisy people, but the good kind. They probably got briefed by Stell earlier, but at least they thankfully didn't pay attention to the devices attached to your ears. They talk all night long, even when they're strictly prohibited from alcohol. You find it surprisingly easy to fit in with them. For a while, you feel like you belonged to his world.
It is... nice.
You find out that it's actually Josh who put the whole thing together. Stell had apparently been talking about you constantly to the point that all of them were rather curious. You don't know how to feel about it, but Josh says this with a smile and a firm pat on your shoulders. "Alam kong napapasaya mo siya, at bilang kaibigan niya nagpapasalamat ako sa'yo. Ingatan mo siya, ah." The unspoken rings loud in your ears that you feel like you're going to simultaneously combust right then and there. Pity that you didn't.
You shake your head, watching Josh's expression turn from hopeful to confused. You get out of his hold and run.
Like you always do.
When you finish the song, there are as many teardrops on your paper as the words on it. Your phone has died a long time ago, and you think it's for the best. You don't know how much time passed since you walked out and did that stunt, but you kind of wish it was long enough for everyone to just forget about it.
Well, so much for wishful thinkings.
You finally fall asleep, wishing maybe you weren't a coward who wants him so badly. The last thing you see is him.. but your mind is probably pitying you at this point that it begins to imagine things.
Your head throbs inside your skull and it's only a warm pad across your forehead that manages to save a bit of your sanity. The warmth was familiar, too familiar for you that you immediately bolt up.
Stell is seated next to you on the couch, as bewildered as you. He sighs and smiles, "Pinag-alala mo kaming lahat. Alam mo bang muntikan ka na nilang suguring lahat dito? Hindi sila galit ah, pero nag-aalala talaga sila lalo na si Josh."
He's speaking all too softly, and you squint to even try to read his lips. Your mind is trying really hard to discern whether this is a dream or not.
"Pumasok na ako ha, sabi mo naman kasi okay lang gamitin ko yung susi eh. Tsaka di mo din sinasagot ang mga tawag at text ko mga dalawang araw na. Akala ko napano ka na." He sighs. Even without reading his words, you can see the disappointment in his face.
It's the same disappointment you imagined him to have when you didn't meet him yet and you still thought of the many ways your soulmate could say sorry.
"I'm sorry." It's everything you prepared for, but why.. why does it hurt still?
Why is he shaking, why are tears falling down from his face? Why are his lips trembling? Why is his voice cracking?
"I'm sorry kung ano man ang nasabi ni Josh. Hindi naman niya yun sinasadya. Sinabihan ko na man siya na wag ka muna biglain, pero…"
He wipes his own face with the back of his hand, and he still continues, while you sit there frozen. Not for the first time you curse yourself for not knowing what to do or say.
Stell curls a little in on himself when you try to reach out a hand. You flinch back, pursing your lips. "Sabi ko naman sa kanya, ako magsasabi eh.. pero sige na nga!" He laughs, and it's the most terrible thing in the world to see. You can feel his tremors and it shakes you to the core, yet you don't know what to do to stop it.
"Alam ko naman. Matagal na. Ang likot mo kaya di ko maiwasan na makita yang nakasulat sa likod ng bandana sa kamay mo.. alam ko naman.."
Your whole world falls apart, fast, that you struggle to keep up with it. And he's right in front of you.
".. alam ko naman, kaya umasa ako na baka.. baka balang araw sasabihin mo din. Kaso di ko na din alam, Pau.. Tumakbo ka, eh."
You run. You always do. Even now you desperately want to get as far as you could, away from this moment. You want to run until you find yourself in the past where none of this is happening.
"Everytime na umaasa ako sa wala, iniisip ko nalang na siguro hindi ka pa handa. Inantay kita kaya siguro kasalanan ko din na hindi ako gumalaw. Pero naiisip ko kasi.. baka… Baka talaga ayaw mo, no? Okay lang naman na ayaw mo- sana alam ko kung saan ako kulang, saan ba ako mali, pwede ko bang- baka naman- magbabago naman ako kung gusto mo, Pau-"
You can see him crumble a little more as he whimpers, words stuttering out of his lips.
No, you desperately think. No, you never want to see him like this. You never want to hurt him like this, but why did you end up still doing it?
Before you can even think about it, you find yourself embracing your whole world that's crumbling in front of you. If you could, you would hold all his pieces together, but how could you when you're the one who broke him in the first place?
He stiffens in your hold, and your heart stops with it. When you try to pull back though, he clutches to your shirt, to you, clawing at your back desperately. He sobs, shaking like a leaf in your hold. You can't hear him, but you can feel him enough that it feels like a stab everytime he hiccups a breath or trembles on your skin.
You allow yourself this time to act on your impulse. You shakily cup his chin and kiss his forehead before tucking him to your chest. This time the mark on your skin burns, and burns agonizingly that it takes the breath out of your lungs. You try, for the first time in your life, you try your hardest to get the words out of your lips.
You never were capable of it, even when it should count the most.
The strangled sob that escapes you instead makes Stell pull back to see you in your misery. His eyes are warm, too warm, too much. His hold on the side of your face is too hot. You take a ragged breath and try again, but nothing comes out. You can't tell him anything, right when you wanted to- right when he needs to hear it.
Your soul screams in repeated apologies and Stell could never hear it, even when you feverishly wanted it.
You duck your head, seeing the world in blur. His hands shake you until you meet his eyes again. He forces you to look at him, and takes your hand to press against his chest.
"Breathe" he says, or at least that's what he tries to say.
You try you goddamn best, choking on your own shame and guilt, but managing after long cruel minutes.
He still stares at you, and you stare back, clinging for dear life. You both are trying to hold each other together, like one move both of you will shatter.
His lips are warm when he met yours. They sent shivers down your spine. They made your heart flutter. They made your soul calm.
You longed for this, dreamed, hoped, and wished for this. Now that you have it, you can't help the sob and the greedy, whiny sound that tears from your throat. It must have been embarassing, but Stell doesn't care and swallows them as he kisses you, silencing the voice in your head that screams in protest.
You both collapse in a tangle of limbs, catching your breaths but never letting go. You've done nothing but taste each other, trying to quench each other's thirst. Both your eyes are red-rimmed, your lips swollen and glistening. Stell sighs and burrows his head into your shoulder, feeling him inhale your scent. His breath leaves goosebumps across your skin. Your ears are pressed against his heart, that steady thump thump you realize now matches your own.
'I'm sorry' you manage to draw onto his skin. Stell's head whips up, takes the digits and kisses them like they're the most fragile things in the world. He doesn't have to say anything, his entire expression says it so.
He does anyway, "It's okay. It's okay."
…and you think... you think you might actually start to believe it.
Years and years later, you will find your voice only because of him and you will remember that song that your nurtured until it bloomed. You will search for that piece of tear-strained paper. You will find yourself in your favorite place in the world, in his hold with your ears pressed to his heart. You will remember the first time you felt it beat close to you in the same rhythm. You will remember the song.
In a quiet but steady voice you will hum to him, sing to him,
"At kahit pa, ang mundo ay mag-iba,
Ako'y laging nandirito,
Di man ako para sa'yo, puso'y di magbabago.
Walang iba, walang iba.
Wala nang hahanapin pa.
Pag-ibig ko'y sa iyo,
Sayo hanggang sa huli."
And he will listen and cry in happy tears until you kiss them away from his handsome face.
But for now.. For now, those words will have to wait. They will see the light of day, yes, but not for now. For now you will just have to take a deep breath and learn.