Making New Friends

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NOTE: This story is set in Manila, Philippines, so some words are in Tagalog and specific places are mentioned.

Jessie turned 25 and thought it was a milestone. I called it a quarter-life crisis, or whatever term was in fashion nowadays. So she threw a big party at her place in Quezon City. It was a tiny apartment, and there were way too many people.

I wanted a drink. I managed to traverse the crowds and eventually achieved the tiny kitchen, where I scrounged around for a drink. Gin, soda, ice. Check. But I needed a glass.

I poked around the shelves and the cabinets. In the living room, people were singing. “You’ve got the words wrong!” someone yelled. People laughed. I snorted. Drunk hipsters. I wasn’t so sober myself.

Eventually, I found a clean glass. I knelt down to get ice from the cooler. Flipped my hair out of the way. Hmm, where was that gin, again? I got up.

And fell. Whoops.

That’s when he walked in. He said, “Whoops! Had a bit much to drink?”

I didn’t so much fall as stumble backwards, and I landed on him. I blamed my shoes. Ridiculous wedge heels. I only wore them to go with my mini-skirt.

“I’m fine. I’m not drunk.” I stood up and smoothed down my skirt. I had to push my glasses up my nose.

“Yeah, they always say that.” I heard the grin before I saw it. I turned around.

He smiled at me. He had a drink of his own in hand, and his other hand was stretched out towards me, presumably to catch me again.

“I’m fine,” I insisted.

“Oh of course you are,” he said, like I was a little girl. “You might want to fix your top though.”

I looked down. My neckline was a little lower than I had intended. I looked back at him. He seemed to be enjoying the view.

“No, I think it’s fine,” I said, glaring at him. I swept my hair behind my shoulder. Was it hot in the kitchen, or was his gaze making me sweat?

A smile spread slowly across his face. He crossed his arms and leaned against the door frame. “Oh, quite fine.”

* * * * *

“So, tell me about Chris Mariano,” I told Jessie at the office.

“Oh, don’t go there!” Jessie squealed. It was about a week after her party, and people were still gossiping: who left with whom, who met for coffee the next day, who stayed at the party ’til morning.

Me, I had managed to stay on my feet, albeit unsteadily, for the rest of the night. I didn’t fall on anyone again, in the kitchen or elsewhere, but every time I turned around, there he was: rakishly smiling at me from afar. It was disconcerting and annoying. It was like I could feel him watching me, his gaze lingering on the hemline of my skirt, the low cut of my top. It was frustrating and infuriating. And I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

And so, there I was, questioning Jessie. “What? Why not? What’s wrong with him?”

When someone tells you not to look at something, of course you look.

“Eh, basta! It’s not a good idea,” Jessie insisted. She turned her attention back to her screen.

I reached across her desk and swatted her shoulder. “How do you know what ideas I have? Tell me! Ano na?”

Jessie pretended to ignore me. “There’s nothing to tell! Bakit ba? Did he try something at the party? I think I would have heard if he’d tried something. I mean, it’s been a week.”

Alarm bells went off in my head. “Tried what? What is he supposed to try? I just met him in your kitchen. Sort of.” As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I knew I’d screwed up.

Jessie turned to me, eyes wide. “What is ‘sort of’? How do you ‘sort of’ meet someone?”

It was my turn to roll my eyes. “I fell. He caught me. We talked. Yun lang!”

Jessie smirked. “Sure.”

I sighed. “He said he’d find me on Facebook.” I removed my glasses and cleaned them, avoiding her eyes.

“A-ha!” Jessie brandished a triumphant smile. “Sabi na nga ba e!” She got up from her chair and walked over to me. “So…?” The triumphant smile had become a mischievous grin.

“So nothing! We’ve been chatting.” I tried to be nonchalant. I slid my hair over the front of my left shoulder, hoping it hid my face from Jessie’s scrutiny.

“And…?” Jessie leaned down so her head was between me and my screen. So much for hiding.

“Wala! Nothing’s happening nga!” I protested.

Jessie threw her head back in a hearty laugh, and went back to her desk. “Hay, bahala ka.”

“Bakit ba? What’s the deal with him? Why did you say, ‘Don’t go there’?”

Jessie looked thoughtful, as if she were trying to remember something. “Hmm. Let’s see. Well, I heard things. Someone told me he’s a flirt. And a snake. Ewan.” She shrugged.

“Ang drama naman nun.” I rolled my eyes.

“Aba ewan! I dunno how much of it is true,” Jessie shrugged too, throwing her hands up in surrender. Then she straightened, and her face lit up. “Ooh! We could ask Carl! I think they knew each other in college. Gusto mo?” The mischievous grin was back, accompanied by a conspiratorial glint in her eye.

“Wag na!” I said firmly. “Maintriga pa ko!” I definitely did not want Jessie, or her boyfriend Carl, to do any digging for me. If Chris was bad news, I wanted to find out for myself.

* * * * *

What I didn’t tell Jessie was that Chris and I had been chatting constantly since her party. He added me on Facebook the next day, as I was looking through photos of the night’s debauchery. I didn’t stop to wonder how he found me, when he hadn’t even asked for my name. I guessed Facebook photo tags did have their uses.

He asked how I was, and if I had managed to get home okay. All the while, I imagined the way he was looking at me during the party. Was he browsing through my photos, the way I was scanning his friends list for familiar names?

We ended up chatting the whole day. He showed me his Tumblr, where he posted his photos and drawings. I gave him the link to my secret blog, where I wrote things on which I wasn’t sure I wanted to put my name. I couldn’t believe we had never met before, given what a small town Manila really was.

We ended up chatting every day since, all day. I was amazed that Jessie never caught me, and thankful that she never asked why I would suddenly burst out laughing in the middle of the day. Fortunately, she was used to me chatting with random Facebook friends throughout the workday, so she didn’t wonder about why I was so engrossed. But I made sure to minimize my chat window with him every time she walked by. I wasn’t sure what I was hiding.

I liked chatting with Chris. We talked about video games and music, our mutual friends, and their bands. We talked about books and movies and board games, and he said he’d invite me to the next game night at his house. We talked about cats and TV shows, and I promised to tell him if my friends organized a Doctor Who marathon.

He didn’t seem like much at the party, but memories of that gaze kept me coming back to my browser, waiting for notifications of his latest message. It felt like his gaze carried over through the bytes and pixels that told me his thoughts. His words onscreen reminded me of that playful, flirtatious tone in his voice. The emoticons, no matter how mundane the smiley face, made me think of the hungry, curious expression on his face as he looked me up and down that night in Jessie’s kitchen. When he talked about writing or drawing, I wondered how tightly he gripped his pen, if he held it with tense hands as my own fingers traveled nervously over my keyboard.

I wondered if he thought about the same ridiculous things.

* * * * *

Chris asked which gig I was going to next. Of course he knew I’d be at SaGuijo for Carl’s show. And I knew Jessie wouldn’t be there. She didn’t really go to gigs often. But I did, and I wondered how I had never noticed Chris at SaGuijo or any of the other bars before.

I made up my mind to go to Carl’s show. I wasn’t sure what would happen, but I sure knew what I wanted.

It was a little late when I got there, and I had to park quite a ways from the bar. I stepped out of the car carefully. I didn’t want to trip on my heels yet again. A cool breeze caressed my bare leg.

I was locking the car door when I heard him.

“Hey you.” He drew near and kissed me on the cheek. His hand went to the small of my back. I wasn’t ready for it, so I hadn’t turned my face for the beso. An inch, probably less, and his lips would have landed on mine. Damn. I raised a hand, perhaps in protest, but it landed on his arm. I wasn’t sure if I was pulling him closer. His face hovered next to mine, dislodging my glasses. I felt his face angle down, as if to sniff my neck. Then he pulled away and smiled. “Nice to see you.” He fixed my glasses.

* * * * *

Loud, noisy, sweaty. Another night at SaGuijo.

Chris paid for my ticket at the gate, and he left me outside as he pushed through the crowd to get our free drinks. I saw some friends, waved hello, beso-beso, chika-chika. He came back with our beers.

The bands played, and we stood outside, listening. Sometimes the crowd would surge forward, when the band was particularly energetic. We’d get thrown together, my back to his chest, or my arm pressed against his. We couldn’t really talk, but every time I got pushed against him, it felt like he was getting warmer, like his arms would start to enclose me, like I didn’t want to pull away just yet. I wasn’t quite sure what to say or do. I had no keyboard to hide behind; there were no computer screens between us. I kept adjusting my glasses on my face, tucking my hair behind my ear. I had nothing else to hide behind.

I couldn’t get past this sense of him, just there beside me. Occasionally he’d whisper a joke in my ear, or allude to something we’d chatted about. We’d chuckle. “Chris Mariano likes this,” he said more than once, with a grin and a Facebook-y thumbs up.

Carl’s band finished playing, and it was getting late. I turned to Chris. “I should go. I have work pa tomorrow.” I wondered if he’d just say goodbye right there.

“Me too,” he said, to my relief and chagrin. He finished his beer and handed the empty bottle to a passing waiter.

“You work at home,” I reminded him, punching his arm.

“Right! The joys of freelance work.” He grinned.

“Tara, I’ll walk you to your car. You can drop me off at home.”

I raised an eyebrow. “I don’t remember offering you a ride.” I hitched my bag up my shoulder and followed him to the street.

“You won’t regret it.” There was that wicked smile again. Had he figured out what I wanted?

* * * * *

We sped down EDSA. I turned on the air-conditioning full blast, and turned the music up. It was hot in SaGuijo. I wasn’t sure if Chris noticed how sweaty I was. My glasses kept sliding down my nose. My hair was sticking to the back of my neck. Phoenix’s “If I Ever Feel Better” blared out of my car speakers.

“Turn here,” he said, directing me to a quiet neighborhood in Pasig. A few turns here and there, and we found ourselves in a quiet little neighborhood. We stopped in front of a townhouse. I parked the car and, after a moment’s thought, killed the engine.

Chris tilted his head. “Want to come in?”

“Do you have anything to drink?”

“I make a mean screwdriver,” he grinned, as he got out of the car.

“And I’m sure I’ll regret it.” I stepped out and fumbled briefly with my keys as I locked the doors.

“Oh, it’ll do the trick.” His smile was devious, conspiratorial.

We walked into the darkened townhouse. He peeled off his hoodie and dropped it on the couch as he reached for the light switch. Warm light filled the apartment from a couple of lamps in the corners. He kicked off his shoes and left them on the living room floor.

“Feel free to do the same,” he called as he walked into the kitchen. I dropped my bag onto the floor beside the sofa. I contemplated taking off my shoes, but changed my mind. Maybe later on, I would.

As I looked around the living room, I heard music piping through. I had to look around a bit to find the speakers, carefully hidden and positioned here and there. He’d put on Dave Matthews Band. Was that “Say Goodbye”?

I cleaned my glasses of fog and sweat, and checked out his shelves. There was his vinyl collection, of course. He was particular about audio recording, sound fidelity and all that. There were books on his shelves: lots of sci-fi, and some erotica anthologies. Of course, some of our friends’ books were there too, beside the inevitable stack of video games.

On the walls were framed paintings and sketches. I recognized some from exhibits I’d visited over the years. We had so many mutual friends. How had our paths never crossed before?

“Like what you see?” He was back with two glasses. He sipped his own drink as he offered me the screwdriver he promised. I took a sip. It was stronger than I was used to, but not unpleasant.

“Oh dear. Traydor ‘to,” I chuckled, after another sip.

“Is that such a bad thing?” I wasn’t sure Chris was still talking about the drink.

He sat down on the sofa behind me. I remained in front of the shelves, perusing while sipping my screwdriver. I’d had a few beers already at the gig. Another drink was probably not a good idea. But I think he’d figured that out when we first met. I wobbled a bit as I stepped sideways to look at more books.

“Maybe you should sit down,” I heard him say behind me.

I turned around and saw him sitting on the sofa, leaning back, his drink in hand. His legs were stretched out, and I was standing directly in front of him.

“I suppose I should,” I said, walking unsteadily towards him. The alcohol kept me warm, and I felt light-headed and loose-limbed. I brushed a few stray strands of my hair away from my face as I walked carefully, deliberately.

Chris watched me, unmoving, eyes locked onto mine, occasionally sipping his drink. He looked like he was enjoying a show, tantalized by the view. Then his gaze, slowly, purposefully, traveled down. I could feel him scrutinizing me. Sweat was trickling down my neck, down to my chest, past my already low neckline. I felt a drop roll down between my breasts, and I watched his gaze follow it down. Was he wondering how I felt under my top?

I watched his eyes travel down to my little skirt, down past the hemline, down to my tanned legs, and finally to my wedge heels.

“Those shoes look familiar,” Chris smiled. I was right in front of him now, and he looked up at me. He was still leaning back, nursing his drink.

“I like being tall,” I retorted. If he was just going to sit there, I would just stand here. No more chatting, secret blogs or random Facebook likes. We were face to face, and there was no place to hide.

I wasn’t sure how long I could stand there in my inebriated state, though. The warmth from the alcohol was spreading down my legs, and at any moment I knew my knees would buckle. Then he’d have to catch me again.

As I drew my diminishing drink to my lips, he leaned forward, and with one hand reached for my leg. I froze.

I watched Chris as he extended a finger down to my ankle, and ever so lightly let his fingernail graze the bone just above my shoe straps. He traced an agonizing, deliberate path up my leg, an ascent that lasted too long. I watched as his eyes followed the line up my bare leg. I held my breath as he reached the hem of my skirt. Then he looked up at me and said, “You have such smooth skin.” His voice was low, his breath measured.

“You should see the rest of me,” I said. I finished my drink.

He reached up and took my glass, and put it on the end table with his own drink. Turning back to me, he traced a fingertip up my other leg—on the inside. I drew a sharp breath. With nothing to occupy my hands, I blushed and pushed my glasses up my nose again.

I closed my eyes and breathed slowly. I felt my skin tingle, tiny hairs standing on end, and I felt warmth concentrating between my thighs.

When I opened my eyes again, Chris was looking up at me. The smile was gone. In its place was an intensity, a determination that no chat message or emoticon could ever convey. It was a look of hunger that, until then, I had only imagined.

“I definitely want to see the rest of you,” he asserted.

“Maybe you should get to know me first,” I teased. I looked into his eyes.

“Good idea.” He tugged at my hips, pulling me towards him. I put my knees on the sofa and straddled him. How often had I imagined this in the past week?

I sank into Chris’ lap. My legs parted and my skirt rode up as his hands guided me into position, just before he moved them past my hips and onto my ass. I shifted my weight and he pulled me closer. I could smell the alcohol on his breath. My thighs wrapped around his, and my feet dangled off the edge of the sofa.

“I don’t think you need these anymore.” He reached behind me and undid one shoe, then the other. The heels fell to the floor with a thud. Then he looked into my eyes.

His face was so close to mine, and as I settled in, I felt my crotch press against his.

Oh, he was hard.

I rested my hands on the back of the sofa, behind his head, trying to steady myself. It was a struggle not to just grind against him. The contact between our arousals, through the flimsy cotton of my panties and his rough jeans, was making me dizzy and quite wet. I tried to breathe. I couldn’t think.

“So, let me get to know you,” Chris said. His hands explored my ass, and found their way into the back of my flimsy camisole. I shivered as he explored the small of my back. I arched, thrusting my chest forward in the process. My breasts were just inches away from his face.

I touched the back of his neck and ran my fingers through his hair. He closed his eyes and moaned softly.

“How do you like me now?” I asked, my voice low. It was all I could do to keep from biting my lip.

“Hmmm. I haven’t made up my mind yet,” he said, eyes still closed.

I leaned down, and as my face reached his, he opened his eyes. I could feel his breath mingle with mine. He watched me linger, my lips only moments from his. He watched as I brought my lips to hover over his cheek, down to his jaw. He tilted his face up, and I took a deep breath, inhaling the scent of his sweat mixed with rum. I brought my lips down to the base of his neck, smudging my glasses on his sweat. He moaned his approval. He tilted his head to the side, offering his neck as if I were going to take a bite. I was tempted to. I pulled the collar of his shirt to the side so I could kiss his shoulder, tracing a path back up to his neck.

As my mouth explored his skin, Chris’ hands moved up my back, fingers finding their way under the garter of my bra. He found the clasp and opened it. My bra fell to my waist, and my breasts were freed, erect nipples pushing against my thin camisole. He pulled my bra out from under my top and tossed it to the floor. “You don’t need that anymore either.”

I straightened up. “You seem to know a lot about what I need. Or don’t need,” I said with a conspiratorial smile.

“Well, you’ve been very friendly online,” he countered. Then his eyes moved down from my face, and I saw the hunger as he looked at my breasts. The cotton clung to my sweaty skin, draping on each curve like a veil. I looked down and saw my large, brown nipples through the white cotton. I loved how my tanned skin showed up against white fabric. I pushed my glasses back up. They were heavily smudged.

“You probably don’t need those either,” he said, reaching for them.

I stopped his hand. “Then how will I see you?”

Chris chuckled. He turned his attention back to my breasts. “I like seeing these.”

“Mmmm.” I pressed my hips against his in appreciation.

I ran my hands down his chest, down to his belly. I lifted his shirt, running my hands up and down his torso. He lay his head back, as if surrendering to my exploration. I bent down to kiss his smooth chest, and I took a nipple in my mouth. He gasped a little, and his hands gripped my waist tightly. I looked up. “You like?” I asked.

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