3 – Good Stay 

Complicated and beautiful, I say hello to our last kiss and I bid goodbye to yesterday’s love.

A City Dance 

Wala akong masyadong alam tungkol sa mga De Villa. Ang natatanging alam ko lang ay ‘yung nature ng mga business nila na nabanggit na sa akin noon ni Daddy. I had no real working knowledge about their family. Up until recently, wala naman kasi akong dahilan para kilalanin sila.
Within the limited hour of interaction I had with the father and son, I caught a faint impression of them. Travis De Villa seemed like a very dependable son, one that held his father’s words above everything else – kind of like a gospel. I can relate to him in that regard. Bulag lang din ang hindi makakakita kung gaano nasisiyahan sa kanya ang kanyang dad. They had a good relationship.
But as much as the father was warm and friendly, the son was the exact opposite. Masyado itong pormal at tahimik. Too uptight for my liking, too cold. He was professional enough to send up a smile whenever it was appropriate, thoughtful enough to accommodate me and engage me in small talks, but I’d worked with people long enough to know which actions were fake and which were genuine. Maybe it’s the perks of being in the art industry for too long. I can navigate through emotions without flair.
Iniisip ko pa lang na siya ang makakasama ko dito ay napapangiwi na ako. That would mean my entire stay here would purely mean business. I had hoped kahit papano ay magkakaron ako ng kaibigan sa kanya, to keep the stay easier.
It seemed I rushed in raising my hopes up.
But well. This could work, too.
If we were going to be professional all through out, mas mainam na din siguro. I would be left to my own devices and that meant more time for me to think of new pieces.
I made a mental reminder to bring my painting materials with me next week.
Tito Jaime showed us the different wines stocked up in their cellar and then we had early dinner in the mansion. The chats were light hearted enough until we finished the meal, which was undoubtedly one of the best I ever ate in my entire life. Native na native.
“Travis. Would you mind showing Francheska around? I think she’ll appreciate touring the farm,” Daddy said, catching my attention.
Tumaas ang kilay ko. Kakagaling ko lang sa pag-ikot sa farm. It’s how I saw Travis, in fact. I hoped my dad was not trying anything funny between me and this heir.
Makinang ang mga mata ni Daddy nang sinabi niya iyon. Ganon din si Tito Jaime. They looked like scheming parents trying to set up their children, sa totoo lang. It’s obvious and devious, and if Travis De Villa noticed this, he did not say or make any indications that he did. Tahimik lang siyang tumango at ininom ang tubig niya.
Kung hindi ko narinig ang malalim niyang boses kanina, I would think he was mute. How could anyone be this quiet? It’s unsettling. But then, this is probably how people think about me as well.
Who knows. Maybe Travis and I were more alike than I’d initially thought. We both didn’t see any point in talking nonsense.
Sinunod ni Travis ang sinabi ng Daddy ko. He toured me later around the farm at tinuro sa akin ang mga crops at iba-iba pang mga green houses dito. Hindi kami ganong lumayo dahil palubog na ang araw.
The hacienda is big, I truly realized now habang tinuturo niya ang mahabang green fields. Farther ahead were farms still and a river stream, he said. We could not walk there on foot dahil sa layo nito kaya sinuggest niya ang kabayo. I refused, saying it’s for another time and day. Pagod na din kasi ako. He looked more than relieved to hear that dahil mukhang sya din ay pagod na.
All throughout the whole tour ordeal, this man never smiled at me. Mapupunit ba ang mukha niya kung hindi siya ngingiti? Even I force out a smile. Siya ay hindi.  Well, he tried earlier when his dad was with us. Is that the only time he ever smiles? Kapag kasama ang dad niya?
Daddy’s boy, my mind echoed.
Napangiti ako doon. Napansin niya dahil nag-angat siya ng kilay.
Umiling ako at lumipat na kami. Iniwan namin ang mga dragonfruits at pinasok ang green house ng orchards. Aniya’y imported pa ang mga ito sa USA at mahalaga ang warming at cooling system ng mga ito para tumubo ito ng maayos.
Kasalukuyan niyang pinapaliwanag kung paano inaalagaan at binebenta ang mga orchards. I listened for the most part until my eyes settled on his stoic face. A thought occurred to me then.
“Is this really what you want?” I interrupted and tilted my head.
A frown of confusion spread on his face. “Sell the orchards?”
I pressed my lips. “No, business. Farming,” I gestured to the sets of orchards around us. “This is what you want?”
He didn’t seem like the type to stay in farms. I pegged him to be someone who’d work behind a desk, above employees and under CEOs. He may well be one someday, too.
Blangko ang expression sa mukha niya. I am good at reading people ngunit hindi ko mabasa ang iniisip niya ngayon. Malalim ang mga mata niya nang nilingon niya ang mga orchards. Bahagya syang tumalikod sa akin.
“Yes,” he answered in a muted tone. “I learned to like it.”
I stepped forward so that we’d be side by side. I trailed my eyes along the orchards. “Then you didn’t like it at first?”
“What I want isn’t important. No one else will do this but me. Dad needs me.”
“You have a second brother,” I pointed out.
“But this is not his to manage. He has his own things to do. And I won’t force this on him. He’s free to choose.”
But you’re not, I wanted to say but didn’t out of respect.
I could understand the sentiment quite good. We are both the eldest, though in my case I am really the only one. There’s no other successor except for me unless my father will consider my cousin, Aulden Lei, but the boy was still studying in college.
Tinagilid ko ang ulo ko at pinagmasdan siya. “What did you want anyway?”
Mabilis niya akong nilingon. “What?”
“Before you learned to like business, what was your dream?”
Sa unang beses sa araw na ito, may nakita akong emosyon sa mukha niya. A lost expression slid into his face, like a child suddenly asked to recite a poem he doesn’t know, but it was gone as soon as it came.
He looked away. “I don’t know.”
I creased my forehead, confused. “You don’t know?”
“I don’t remember anymore,” he said in a monotone, shrugging. Huminga siya nang malalim at tiningnan ako pabalik. His face was colder now, more guarded. I got the impression he was no longer willing to entertain any more questions. “We should go.”
He was evading the topic. I knew it too well because I do it too. All the time.
I wasn’t usually an intrusive person. I barely cared about other people since I didn’t live in reality. I lived in the world behind paintings, in words, abstracts and ideas. But something in this man challenged me.
I wanted to test this cold facade, see how strong it could go before it breaks, see what makes it break. I wanted to try if I could get past his mask.
I didn’t know when this urge started. I surprised myself, too, because I wasn’t really one to rise to anything. Siguro ay namamangha lang ako sa stark similarities at differences namin.
Sinundan ko si Travis palabas ng green house. The air was cool and fresh against my cheeks. It was a cool night and the sound of the trees rustling and the mountain breeze whistling felt like something I’d read in poetry.
We walked in silence. Diretso at mabilis ang paglalakad niya at ni minsan ay hindi ako nilingon.
I easily caught up with his pace and decided to play with words. “I don’t get it. If you don’t want it, then why won’t you say so?”
He suddenly paused and turned to glance at me. There was a questioning and exasperated look on his stoic face. “How about you? Do you want this?”
Natahimik ako doon at hindi napigilang ngumiti. He’s good. He got me.
“You’re right.” I wrung my hands. “I guess we’re the same.”
I found it highly ironic. Our biggest similarity was this: we were forced to stay in business even if we didn’t want to. And yet this very business that we didn’t want was what brought us together. If not for it, we would not be having this conversation at all.

How ironic.
Huminga ako ng malalim at nilingon ang mga bituin sa langit.
“It must be sad,” I said, this time more to myself than him, “to do something you don’t like.”
“It’s not that I don’t want this,” aniya. “It’s just that I had no time to want anything else but this. Bata pa lang ako, alam ko nang ako ang gagawa ng lahat ng ito. I believed this is what I wanted,” he said. I could see his patience waning beneath his brown orbs and yet he was still trying to be polite, still trying to answer me as best as he could.
“Limited choices. Somehow, it feels forced on you,” I whispered when we were finally near the mansion. Sort of like me.
“Just because I didn’t conceptualize it doesn’t mean I don’t like it,” sagot niya. “We don’t get everything we want. Maswerte na ako na ganito ang buhay ko. I’m at peace with this. I have a family and a job. This is the most that anyone could ever get,” he said a little too coldly and then left.
And that’s how my first interaction with the De Villa scion went. Not a very good first impression per se but I was impressed.
I knew I crossed the line.
Perhaps Arlo Miguel was right. Masyado akong prangka. I should feel bad for overstepping my bounds but the only thing I could feel was victory. I was celebrating my mini triumph. Why?
Because I learned several things today.
One: He wasn’t mute after all. My intrusive questions made him speak, showing me the human inside the cold exterior. That was the first lesson I discovered about Travis De Villa then.
He is patient, but only to a certain extent.
Two: When you hit certain subjects, his calm waters ripple. Subjects like his family and personal aspirations.
Third: Reach his end limit and then he’ll get defensive and shut off. Even with all those carefully laid out formal facade, he’s surprisingly sensitive.

Mainam na kahit papano ay may nalaman ako tungkol sa kanya. He’d be the man I’d stay with for a few months after all. I at least needed to have a ground to work on. Ngayong alam ko na ang mga ito, I could be more sensitive and considerate. Not bad at all.
Bandang madaling araw ay may kumatok sa kwarto. One of the house keep asked me to go down dahil nagkakasiyahan daw sa baba.
“Pinapatawag po kayo ng Daddy niyo,” aniya.
Ngumiti ako. “Sige po. Susunod din ako.”
Nasa kalagitnaan ako ng pagbabasa ng emails ng tawagin niya ako. Katatapos ko lang mag-shower at nakapagpalit na din ako ng damit. Tinapos ko munang basahin ang natitirang emails at saka sumunod sa baba.

When I went out of the mansion, nakatipon na ang mga trabahador at nagkakatuwaan. Naka upo sa benches sina Daddy, Tito Jaime at Travis habang kumakanta sa paligid nila ang mga kalalakihan. Pinangungunahan ito ni Manong Ponsoy na nag-gi-gitara.
My father saw me and beckoned me to sit beside him. Bago pa ako makalapit sa kanya ay malawak na ang ngiti sa labi ko. Several dishes were scattered across the long wooden table at samu’t saring mga prutas ang nakalatag dito. Nakakaengganyo din ang amoy ng iniihaw na barbecue at liempo kaya kahit na kumain na ako ay nakaramdam ulit ako ng gutom.
Inabutan ako ng baso ni Tito Jaime at narinig kong pinuri ng isang matandang lalaki ang Basi wine na ‘yon.
I took one sip from it, and another, and another dahil sa sobrang sarap nito. Nagtawanan sila at inabutan pa ako ng panibago ng maubos ko ang unang binigay nila.
“Kayo po ba ang nagtitimpla ng lahat ng wine dito?” tanong ko kay Tito Jaime.
“Usually. Bago kami mag-launch ng bagong wine, we usually brainstorm and experiment for new flavors and taste. Lalo na dito sa Pilipinas na uso at patok ang mga wines, we need to make something new out of the common flavors,” sagot ni Tito Jaime.
“You should try their Mango wine here, Ches. Kung gusto mo ang Basi, mas magugustuhan mo ‘yon,” ani Daddy.
Tumango si Tito Jaime. “I’ll have it prepared tomorrow. Although you’ll have ample of time to try everything, iha. Sinabihan ko na si Travis tungkol d’yan.”
My attention inadvertently shifted to the man sitting beside him. Wala sa amin ang atensyon niya dahil nakikipag-usap ito sa iilang mga trabahador na nakaupo sa tabi nito.
I watched how he talked to them. There was a genuine smile etched on his face na lumawak pa nang tumawa siya sa sinabing biro ni Manong Ponsoy.
So this is how he interacts with his workers. No walls and boundaries between them. Kitang kita ko ang respeto at pagkatuwa sa kanya ng mga ito. Ganon din naman sya sa kanila.
Maybe Daddy was right. Siguro ay tamang desisyon na dito ako. I could see how warm and considerate this family is based on how they treat their people. Kahit na cold pa itong si Travis, it seemed he wasn’t generally aloof.
Maya maya pa, nagkantyawan ang mga kalalakihan at pinilit na kumanta si Tito Jaime. Tumayo ito at lumapit sa videoke para i-program ang napiling kanta. Tawa ng tawa ang anak nito habang sinisimsim ang beer.
“How are you liking it so far?” Daddy whispered to me when the song began.
Humilig ako palapit sa kanya. “This place is really good but I don’t think I’ll mix well with Travis, Dad. He’s too cold.”
“Like you. But maybe you can melt each other’s defenses. Sa industry na ito, importante ang connections, Ches. You need to know anybody who is somebody and there’s no perfect place to begin but here. Travis will be an important figure in the society soon, if he isn’t yet. He’s a smart boy.”
Nilingon ko ulit si Travis na kausap na ngayon ng isang matandang babae. “I don’t think he likes me.”
“Ganoon lang naman daw ‘yon sabi ni Jaime. Give him a chance. Maghintay ka lang ng ilang araw, pag nakasama mo siya, baka magkasundo na kayo,” coaxed Daddy. “And try to reach out, too. Give and take para mapadali naman ang pagsasama niyo dito kahit papano. And please, behave, anak.”
My forehead creased as I glanced back to my father. “What do you mean? Mabait naman ako ah?”
“Alam ko. Wala naman akong duda doon. I know you’re reliable but I also know how stubborn you can be when you want to. Please, try to get along with him.”
I gave him a wary look. “Dad, I know you. I know you’re trying to set me up here. I’m not interested in him.”
Tumawa si Daddy. “Hindi ah? But wouldn’t it nice to merge our family with theirs?”
I sighed. “It won’t happen. It’s impossible.”
“Nothing is really impossible, you know that.” Tinapik niya ang balikat ko. “Just try it out a few months, okay? After this, if you don’t like it, then we’ll talk.”
Isang oras din akong nakihalubilo sa kanilang lahat. Ngayon ko lang naranasan ang ganitong klaseng kasiyahan kaya na-enjoy ko ang bawat minuto. However, kahit nais ko pang magtagal ay talagang pagod na din ako. Maaga akong nagpaalam sa kanila para makapagpahinga.
Si Tito Jaime ang naghatid sa akin papasok ng mansyon.
“Francheska, I know you’ll be staying here for a while with my son. Travis can be a little bit difficult and disagreeable but I hope you won’t give up on him?” sabi niya sa akin nang marating namin ang hagdan.
Tito Jaime looked like someone who’d always smiled. His laugh lines were prominent and attractive in his defined face. Nabanggit niya ang mga anak niya kaninang hapon. Kamukha niya kaya ang iba? Would they share his warmth or their brother’s more quiet demeanor? I couldn’t help but wonder.
“I understand this po, tito. I can be a little difficult myself, too.”
“It won’t be easy for the two of you but feel free to let me know kung may kailangan ka o may problema ha?”
I nodded my head. “Opo. Salamat po.”
“Alright then.” He smiled. “Maghahanda kami ng masarap na breakfast bukas. May request ka ba para maipaluto ko?”
“Kahit ano po. Masarap naman po silang magluto kaya kahit ano ay siguradong magugustuhan ko.”
“Magaling at napakabait ni Nanay Meng. Matutuwa iyon pag narinig niya ‘yan.”
Hindi na ako hinatid pa sa taas ni tito. My mind was going back to the festivities outside as I ascended the stairs and disappeared in the confines of my new room. Ito din kaya ang magiging kwarto ko pagbalik ko dito? I hoped so, dahil maganda ang view dito at tanaw na tanaw ko ang maliwanag na buwan.
I climbed up the bed and fished out my phone. May text sa akin si Arlo Miguel.
How’s the place? 
With a smile on my face, I replied,
Perfect. Everyone’s just perfect. 
I was right. Malamig nga dito tuwing gabi. Saglit lang akong nakaidlip before a call woke me up. It was from my friend in France, si Riadne. Saglit lang kaming nag-usap ngunit ‘di na ako makatulog pa kahit pa pilitin ko.
Putting a shawl over my shoulders, I stepped out of my room patungo sa veranda ng third floor. Tapos na ang kasiyahan pero may mga iilan pa din ang naroon at nag-iinuman. Pinagmasdan ko ang kahabaan ng farm nila.
I was here so that I’d manage our own farms someday. Dalawang beses ko palang yatang nabibisita ang amin pero alam kong ‘di hamak na mas malaki ang pag-ma-may-ari na lupa ng mga De Villa.
Makakaya ko kayang palaguin ang sa amin? Katulad ng sa kanila?
I closed my eyes and enjoyed the cool wind. It was refreshing and not the sticky kind. Masarap sa pakiramdam ang saktong lamig na dala nito.
I was in that peaceful trance when I heard footfalls echoing from the hallway. I turned my head over my shoulder and saw Travis De Villa in the dark. Papasok na ito sa kabilang kwarto ngunit huminto nang maaninag ako. He slowly walked toward me.
“Can’t sleep?” tanong niya.
I furrowed my brows. I did not expect him to come up and converse but then again, maybe he was still playing the polite son.
I nodded. “Namamahay,” tipid kong sagot.
“You want anything warm to drink?” he offered, raising the mug he was holding.
“No, I’m good. Thank you.”
Tumango lang siya, pinagmasdan ako ng ilang sandali bago tumalikod at pumasok sa sarili niyang kwarto.
I felt a swell of disappointment at this. Really, Francheska? What were you expecting?
I drew a deep breath and darted my gaze back to the farm. The tales were true about the rural life. Maagang natutulog ang mga tao. I missed Bonifacio Highstreet suddenly and its busy night life. It would be hard to get used to this. I was in a strange land, expected to do even more stranger things. Sana ay kayanin ko. I didn’t want to disappoint my dad.
I didn’t know for how long I stood there, just admiring the entire place. This would soon be my home for the coming months. I prayed for a good stay.

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