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ESSENCE
by Jose Claudio B. Guerrero

 

WE had just finished lunch in a small café along Katipunan Road. Two cups of steamy brew enveloped our table in a delicious aroma.

"So where did you meet?" I asked my friend Patrick as he put down his coffee cup.

"In the Faculty Center in UP."

"Again? How come you meet a lot of guys there? I'm always there and nothing ever happens."

Patrick pointed to his face and smiled.

"Che!" I replied laughing. But I knew that it was true. Patrick was not really that good looking, but he had this sexy air about him. And he had fair skin which is, for most Filipinos, a prerequisite for beauty. I looked at the mirror behind him and saw my dark, emaciated reflection.

"So anyway, I was washing my face in the ground floor washroom when in comes this really cute guy. I've seen him on campus a few times before. So anyway, he goes and takes a leak," Patrick paused. "You know those FC urinals, right?"

I nodded. "No partitions."

Patrick took another sip from his cup and continued. "So anyway, this guy sees me checking him out. To my surprise, he turns to me, giving me full view of him in all his glory and smiles. I smile back. And," Patrick took a deep breath, "the rest is for me alone to know." He ended by dabbing the sides of his napkin to his mouth.

I knew pressing Patrick for more details would shut him up just like that so I let it pass. I could wheedle out all the details later. "So what's his name?"

"Carlo."

I raised an eyebrow and gave Patrick my you've-got-to-be-kidding look. He laughed and nodded in agreement.

"Yes it's another Carlo. It's always Carlo, or Paolo, or Mike, or Jay--"

"So what name did you use?" I asked, cutting him short.

"My favorite, Paolo." We both laughed. "Enough of me. Tell me about yourself. It's been what, a month since we've talked?"

"More like three weeks," I answered as I motioned to a waiter for the cake menu.

"Oh no. You're ordering cake."

"Why?"

"You order cake when you're depressed."

"No I don't. And anyway, I'm not depressed this time." The waiter arrived with the cake menu. After giving our orders, Patrick continued pressing me for news.

"I told you, I lead a boring life."

"I'm sure," answered Patrick mischievously. "So how's your Chinese boyfriend?"

Patrick's question caught me off-guard as I sipped from my cup. I snorted and felt coffee go up my nose. We both started laughing. "He's not Chinese," I answered when I had recovered. "He's Korean. And he's not my boyfriend, excuse me. I'm his tutor."

"I'm sure," said Patrick needling me. "And what are you tutoring him in?"

"English."

"I'm sure. Oh good, here's the cake."

As I dug my fork into my cake's rich cream cheese, I happened to look at the mirror and saw the café doors open. A dumpy, fair-skinned guy walked in. "Oh my God." I froze.

Patrick saw the expression on my face and looked around for what caused it. Finding it, he said, "Don't tell me you're still crazy over Mark."

"No I'm not. It's just that, well…"

"Well what?" asked Patrick, his eyes suddenly alive with curiosity.

"It's…you know," I answered. My eyes told him the rest.

"No," he answered not wanting to believe it.

I smiled.

"When?"

"Two weeks ago."

"Why didn't you tell me sooner?"

"You're always busy."

"Well I'm not busy anymore. Tell me everything." Patrick leaned over to me forgetting all about his cake. "It's not everyday your best friend loses his virginity."

"It happened two weeks ago. Our teacher dismissed us early so I was walking in the AS parking lot looking for my driver. It was already dark and only a few cars were left. Well, one of the cars was his. He smiled at me and asked me what time it was," I paused and took a bite from my cake.

"And?"

"And what happened next is for me alone to know." I replied mimicking him.

"Fuck. Don't do this to me. Tell me. I have to know. I won't be able to sleep," Patrick begged. Noticing his unused fork, he grabbed it. "Tell me or I'll stab you with this." Just then Mark passed so he hurriedly lowered his fork. "He looks conscious. Maybe he suspects you've told me."

I just smiled.

"I know some guys who are like that. Once something has happened between you, they suddenly feel awkward when you're around. Eventually you end up avoiding each other." Patrick studied his cake for a while then started eating. After some time he spoke up. "I'm so happy for you," he said smiling as he grabbed my hand and shook it warmly. "I remember all those times we sat here eating cake and talking about your to-die-for classmate Mark. Mark and his cologne, Mark and his new cologne, Mark and his crew cut, Mark and his burnt-out cigarette butt." He considered for a moment and then said, "Boy, am I glad those days are over." He laughed. I smiled.

"Is it really true that you took puffs from his cigarette butt?"

My ears went red and I nodded. "Whatever he touches, he leaves an essence. When I take a puff from his cigarette butt, our essences meld. We become one," I hastened to explain. "It's like we've shared something. Like a bond."

Patrick gave me a pitying look. "At least you don't have to do that anymore."

I smiled and mashed the blueberries on my plate.

We finished our cakes as we updated each other with what has happened to our high school barkada. As we waited for our change, Mark stood up to leave and finally noticed us. He smiled and went out. Patrick pinched me as I smiled back, my ears burning.


PATRICK dropped me off at the Faculty Center after lunch and rushed to the theater for rehearsal. Having thirty minutes to waste before my next class, I decided to go to the FC washroom and tidy up.

The faint scent of detergent, cigarette smoke, and stale urine greeted me as I opened the door. As I expected, the washroom was deserted. I stood in front of the mirror and took out tissue from my bag. As I dabbed moistened tissue on my face, the washroom door opened and a woody cologne scent wafted in.

It was Mark. He went straight to the urinals. I pretended not to notice him. When he finished peeing, he joined me by the mirror, washed his hands, and then straightened his shirt collar. As he looked at his reflection, he saw me watching him and smiled, "It's you again." I smiled back and offered him a tissue. He declined and left.

When the door closed, I hurried to the urinal. I unbuttoned my fly and peed. I looked down and watched my pale yellow fluid join his, a bit darker and frothy against the white porcelain. As I watched the fluids mix, their colors getting more and more difficult to distinguish until finally no difference could be seen, a warm pleasurable sensation from within me slowly surged, growing more and more powerful, until finally shudders of ecstasy racked my still untouched body.

©1996 by Jose Claudio B. Guerrero

This story has previously appeared in print.

 

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