Back in Santa Barbara - Five


I don’t understand why Chris won’t talk to me. I don’t remember him to be this snobbish when we were “getting to know each other” and living the normal life in Spring City. Is it because what he showed me back then was not the real him? Him being this botanist-next-door aura, was it all for a show? I liked him for that, and I fell for it! I remembered him to be charming and easy-going, however, he acted differently here in the Underworld as if I did something wrong. Maybe I am just the naivest person in this world. First, I fell for Richard and now Chris. Felicia, you’re unbelievable. And gullible. 

Going back to this diary, yesterday, Crux and I went to Lake La Paz for the third time. I love going to this lake because no one from the Underworld except Crux and I is interested in spending some time here. Apparently, the rest of the engkanto are more invested in other things. Crux told me that most of them like to play with humans using other passages. “Do you mean there are other ways to get out of Underworld? Because if there is, you better tell me. I am sure my friends are dead worried about me. They probably think I am dead!” 
“You have stayed here for three months, right? That’s equivalent to 6 months in the human world, so they probably assume you’re dead." 
“That is not funny, Crux. Stop grinning!” I pushed him to the water from an elevation where we were sitting. “Just answer my question! Is there any other way to get out of here?" 
“There are other ways to get out of this world. There is a passageway from the land of the aswangs and kapre, but I won’t try my luck if I were you. I guarantee you that you will die if you even try. You are a dead chicken when the see you. There will be no mercy. Believe me. The engkantos are the best creatures you’ll find in Underworld. We can make ourselves invisible to these creatures, you, on the other hand, can be smelled. I remember them to have an unyielding sense of smell. Give up the idea.” He started swimming further. I was left wondering what was going on in my world. Crux waved from where he was asking me to jump. I shook my head and told him that I prefer to stay here for a while. He continued teasing me splashing water to my face. “You probably miss Chris, aren’t you?" 
“No, I don’t.” The truth is, I do miss him. He hasn’t visited me for two weeks now. The last time I have seen him was that trip to Vela. We had a good talk in the shore when everyone fell asleep around the bonfire. What has he been doing? Had he been writing? 
“Alright,” Crux answered. “I am going to pretend I did not hear your thoughts just now.” 
“I’m sorry for lying. Humans do that a lot." 

As the feast of Santa Barbara came close, I also needed to finish the pending task at hand as the organizer of the event. One of those tasks was to convince the artists in our town to sell their artworks during the feast, and donate a percentage to the town fund for the biggest Christmas party, which hopefully could attract tourists. 

These artists have been my friends for a long time, and I had also worked with them before. The older ones had collaborated with my parents too during their time. Most of my ideas for the event came from my Mom who always went big on Christmas. I remembered as a kid, how she would convince my Dad to join our carolling from house to house. She would deck the halls by June, and organize a hundred of small parties before December. My Dad would shrug every time we go home after a night of collecting coins from the neighbours, and my Mom would boast how much money we got. So much fond memories. 

I dialled Jane's number, one of the artists of the town who was known for her handicrafts. "Hey, Jane! Felicia here. Yeah, remember the feast of Santa Barbara? We need artists to sell artworks in the bazaar. Perhaps we can meet so I can discuss the details? Today? Sure. I'm on my way now." Fortunately, they were all available to meet me. In this small town alone, surprisingly there were around thirty talented artists. I thought it was probably because Santa Barbara is such an inspiring town, where everyone can be a Fernando Amorsolo. You got the sea, the endless fields, the plaza and the friendly people. What else can you ask for? 

All the artists I have spoken to agree to sell their works at the bazaar. “Will you join the event as well?" Lucas, known for his oil painting of Saint Barbara, asked. He would paint scenes of Saint Barbara's life story which were bought immediately by his patrons. I remember having tea with him a few years ago, when he accidentally saw my hidden paintings. "You should show people how well your paintings are.” 
“I’m the organizer of the event, so I have not thought of that. Besides, I can’t remember the last time I finished a piece.” 
“That's a shame. I thought your new source of inspiration would help your creativity." He smirked. 
“Source of inspiration? What do you mean?" 
“I thought you'd get yourself a Muse now.” He chuckled, and I was confused. “The new guy in your house, what’s his name again?" 
“Oh, C-Chris!” I finally see what he meant. I brushed the topic away and immediately bid Lucas goodbye. "Don't forget, setting time, 8 am. See you there, Lucas!" 
"I'm happy for you, Felicia," he called out as I gathered my things. 

Out of the house, I sighed as I avoided Lucas. The truth was, Chris and I have not spoken ever since. Believe it or not, we managed to avoid each other in such a small town, and in such a small house. Besides, I am still unsure of my feelings; I didn’t want to dwell on that now. There were so many things to be done. I knew he was avoiding me too. He would wake up very early and would busy himself with the garden when I go for breakfast. In the afternoon, he would tell me he needed to go for work interviews, while I was organizing the feast. In the evening, even if Ising have cooked a lot of food, he would decline and would go directly to his room. I don’t know what’s running on his mind right now. And although I didn’t want to admit, I am starting to miss him. However, I don't know how to start talking to him. I felt stupid. What did I suppose to say? I counted, it has been four days. 

I stretched as I prepared for my next appointment: Afternoon lunch with Lucy. When I saw her, I couldn't help but confessed what has been going on with Chris and me. “But you two looks so good together, you know that?" 
“That’s what you told me when I was going out with Richard too and look how it turned out. Somehow, I don't want to repeat a past mistake ever again." 
“Felicia, this is not about Richard at all. What happened in the past stays in the past, you understand?” I nodded. I decided not to tell her yet about Richard’s cancelled wedding. She would freak out and would think it was probably the reason why I am getting confused with my feelings for Chris. But is Richard the reason why I can’t commit to Chris, even if Chris is so perfect for me? "Geez, the power of forgetting memories that Queen cast on you must be so powerful, huh?" I wanted to tell Lucy how hollowed I feel, that I wish I have those memories so my problems would solve itself. I wish I could remember how I loved Chris like how I wrote it in the diary. 
I decided to change the subject. “So, we’re going to find out the baby’s gender today?” She nodded excitedly. “I still can’t believe I did not notice your tummy when you pick me up from Spring City. Should I have known, I should not have asked you to come. I am the worst best friend ever!" 
“You didn’t ask me to come, remember? I was the one who decided to go. Besides, this baby is a survivor that it can handle anything, just like the Mom.” 
“Just be careful, okay? After the check-up, you will stop calling the baby “it” and we can finally launch the shopping spree! I have wanted to know whether to buy blue or yellow." 
“Yes, we’ll know.” Her face went serious. “By the way, Jonathan called yesterday, and it turns out, someone told him that I am pregnant." 
“Oh my! What did you talk about? And how come he didn’t know?" 
“I never told him, okay? He spoke to my Mom yesterday while I was out. He freaked out." 
“In a good or bad way?” This information was very essential. 
“In a good way. He got so excited that he is currently flying from LA to Manila to see me.” 
"That's good news, Lucy. You could be a happy family." 
"I don't think so. I don't know. I am not sure I want Jonathan back to my life." She once again heaved a heavy sigh. Both of us were clueless on how to go from here; that's probably why we were best friends in the first place. Like me, she evolved late in the game as a teenager. We had these braces on our teeth and big glasses in our eyes back then. While the rest of the girls in our barkada were having two boyfriends simultaneously, we were in the library researching how to get rid of our acnes. Until one day after summer, when the braces and glasses were gone, everyone had started noticing us. We would pretend to be cool as if we knew we were doing, but the truth was far from that. 

I went home that late afternoon and caught up with Chris in the living room as he was about to get back from gardening. He was not wearing any top, just a pair of old jeans covered in dirt. “Hey, Chris,” I called out. “What are you up to?" I noticed his wide back covered in sweat. I took out my handkerchief and wiped it. Too late before realizing what I ended up doing. He took the handkerchief from my hand and turned around awkwardly. 
“Err, I just finished filling up the back garden with vegetables. You can have a look if you want." 
“Sure, I’d want to see it, if that’s fine with you." Another stupid question from my blabbering mouth. 
“Of course, that’s your garden, after all, you know. You have every right to have a look.” He said he would go upstairs first for a quick shower. “I’ll join you afterward.” I agreed. I went straight to the garden where I found Ising. 
“Felicia, you’re back! Look how Chris made the back garden beautiful again. I am telling you he’s got the skills. No wonder he got that job easily at the farm." 
“Chris got a job?" 
“Didn’t he tell you? He just got accepted as a researcher in Don Felipe’s farm. Okay, sit down there. Let me get you a glass of wine and some canapés I have prepared this afternoon.” I suddenly felt left out. Don Felipe’s farm is an hour drive away from Santa Barbara. Why would he even apply for a job so far away from here? Does Chris have plans to move out of here? I reminded myself not to overthink without asking him. However, for that moment I was left on my own, I somehow felt betrayed. I was deep in my thoughts when Ising came out in the garden. She handed me a glass filled with Sauvignon Blanc and some tapas. “Relax for a while here. I will start preparing dinner.” I only nodded as I took a sip. The wine refreshed my throat that it made me lean back in the marble chair as I watched the different hues in the sky. It was beautiful. 
“November has always been my favourite month of the year,” I told Chris who just came out in the garden wearing a new white shirt. I could smell his shampoo and his newly shaven face. 
“The thought of having a lot to celebrate for excites me. Everyone’s in a good mood to share their blessings to others. Everyone’s in the mood for love.” I handed him a glass of wine. 
“Do you like the garden beds?” he asked. 
“It’s all beautiful. You’re very talented at this. And congratulations on the new job." 
“Oh, Ising told you.” 
“I wanted to be the first one to tell you." 
“That will be quite a drive, you know.” 
“It’s alright. I need to contribute to the expenses here in the house." 
“Chris, do you still plan to stay? “He went quiet. “I was just thinking that once you start working, that will mean 2 hours spent on driving and that will be very tiring for you." 
“I will stay or leave Felicia, only if you want me to." 
“What do you mean?" 
He sighed. “Felicia, we don’t need to complicate things. I will leave if you do not want me here. But if you still want me to, I will stay for as long as you want. I am at your disposal." 
“Chris, I didn’t bring you all the way here in Santa Barbara just to dispose of you." 
“You’re right. But you can’t just leave me hanging in here." 
“What does that even mean?” I impatiently stood up and turned to him. “You are the one who wanted to take this, what we had one step at a time. And now, I don’t understand why I feel that you are pushing me to love you back!" I couldn't help raising my voice. There were so many emotions trying to come out, but I only managed a cry of desperation. Tears formed in my eyes again, while my throat felt tighter. 
He went quiet, surprised with what I have just blurted out or with my reaction. I was surprised too. I wiped my eyes. We were silent for a while. “I’m sorry, Faye. But right now, I feel that I am losing you." 
“You are not losing me because you don’t even have me yet." I blurted another blow. 

“Right.” He stood up and stared at me hard. “You’re absolutely right.” He turned around and went back in. I was left in the dark finishing the whole bottle. I told Ising that I won’t have dinner and that I will go to bed early.

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