Summer Haze: I

I stood there on the corner nursing a beer, the sweat of the bottle felt damp on my hands. It was still early and the crowd was thin, both in numbers and in size. Many of them came in groups, in twos and threes, though in fours and fives were the more common. Some were familiar faces, the regulars of the club, who may or may not have slept with one another at one time. The solo ones, like me, flocked at the bar or near it, surveying the place with mild disinterest, more conscious than not of being observed too. Some faced the bartender and observed through the mirrored glass while others faced the still-empty dance floor, as if in a trance. The remixes and the popular dance music would come later when the crowd pours in, but for the early birds, the club played an endless, wordless Euro pop and trance music. Nobody danced on those songs. They were just a way of cloaking the desperation borne by those who came in early on a Saturday night when everyone else was on their third or fourth stop, having dinner or sitting on the side streets getting drunk on some cheap venues.

You were one of those who came in alone, who faced the bartender and pretended to watch the muted TV. I noticed you because you were new. But so did the others. Several descended on you, like crows feasting on their prey. They talked to you or tried to talk to you, maybe some even offered to buy you a drink, although I never saw you took any except what was in your hands. Some left after a few exchanges, while others lingered, as if waiting for you to make your move after they've made theirs. But you were unresponsive and they left after you ordered another beer without further acknowledging any of them.

You weren't handsome, but striking in some ways. Your nose was not too tall, but it wasn't wide either as most in our races are. You may have some Chinese blood as evident in your eyes, but tempered with the brownness of your skin.

I lost you at some point. I didn't notice when the crowd has grown, but one minute I was looking at you, the next I saw faces and bodies as close to my face as possible, reeking of alcohol; some of smoke, some of cheap cologne.

I wanted to be near you, to talk to you, if only because you were someone new. But also because I felt a tingling sensation, an instant attraction I haven't felt in a long time. Or at least since the weekend before when I was there and I had gone home with a sprightly young man in his early twenties about ten years my junior.

"So what's the score?" I asked you as I signaled the bartender for another beer.

You looked at me and smiled.

"I have no idea," you said. "I don't even know how it's played."

"There's a bat involved and a ball and that's the extent of what I know."

"I know that much too," you said. Smiling again, which made me stare at you more.

It was an introduction that led to bantering. Not in a continuous sort of way, but in short burst when the music and the crowd wasn't too loud.

I felt my heart racing and my mind doing mental calisthenics whether or not to ask you back to my place. It was strange to have felt that way; you weren't the first one I had taken home. But you were different in a way that I wanted to be different. And the thought that I would mess it up on the first and only try scared me. If I blew this off, I knew there'd be no next time. You'd be part of the long list of possible romances lost.

"Do you wanna go somewhere?" I asked slowly, making sure that my voice didn't drown from the noise and my fear.

You nodded. "Let's head to my place."

The invitation stunned me, not because I had thought I'd be the one to ask you, but by the casualness you said it, as if you're inviting your childhood friend to your house for a late night playdate.

The taxi took us from the small, busy Manila street to an empty, but well-lighted road in Quezon City. You pressed 22 on the elevator and we stood face to face in silence, as if waiting in judgment for a deed we have yet to do.

It was the first time I saw you in full light and I noticed how piercing your eyes were and how lean your body was without being gaunt or raggedy. You were taller than me by an inch or so, 5'8 I supposed, and your arms and chest showed a hint of regular trips to the gym, although a bit of a stomach betrayed you. But I thought it was cute that you have that; it made you imperfect and reachable.

When the elevator stopped, we stood side by side waiting for it to open and as it did, I kissed you on your cheek, before I walked out. I stopped when I realized I didn't know where I was going. It wasn't my place, but yours. You laughed and signaled at me to go the other way.

You pushed me on the door as soon as you closed it and kissed me fully on the lips, we played with our mouths and tongues, as if we've been deprived of something that tasted that good for a long time.

"That's for stealing a kiss," you whispered, before you took my hand and led me to your bedroom.


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