Roy and Leslie’s Last Annual Vacation
The charcoal in the grill crackled as it started to blaze. Roy smiled in delight. Soon, the grill will be ready for the fish he bought for a bargain from a passing fisherman. He was giddy, just thinking of the smile on her face when she sees what he has prepared. It was their host who tipped him about the passing fishermen in the wee hours of the morning, coming home with the rest of their catch, selling them to their neighbors for a low price. Roy closed his eyes as he imagined her coming close to him and kissing him sweetly while muttering, “thanks for this”.
“So, what have you got there?”
Roy nearly dropped the fish he was slathering with salt in surprise. He knew who it was, but didn’t expect that she would be up this early – she sleeps ‘til noon whenever they were here, after all.
Roy straightened up. “Just the freshest fish in Pagudpud at this time.” He smiled. “Good morning, Dr. Leslie De Leon.”
Leslie smiled and bowed slightly, acknowledging the greeting. “Good morning, kind sir.”
She walked over to the long, empty table in the middle of the kitchen outside the house, pulled the long stool and slid to a sit. She pretended to smell the aroma of the supposedly, cooked fish in the grill. “Yummy!” and they both laughed; not exactly how Roy has planned, but he’ll take it.
Roy went back to putting salt on the gutted fishes. “So, what do you have planned for today? Land Tour? Swimming?”
“I actually wanted to relax by the beach today. We haven’t done that in a while.” Leslie said thoughtfully.
“Really? On our second day here in Ilocos and you wanted to bum on the beach?”, Roy asked, surprised.
Leslie frowned. “What’s surprising about that?”
Roy finished salting the second fish and washed his hands. “Well, it would be the first time since we first came here that you just wanted to hit the beach on your second day here.. and that was, what, five years ago?”
“That long, huh? And yet, you remembered!”, she laughed. It was music to Roy’s ears but he was determined not show how much he loved that laugh, not at this moment though. He reached for the kettle, filled it with water, and put it on the stove. He then went back to the sink to salt the third, and last, fish he bought.
After he was done, Roy brought the dish with the fishes to the grill and placed them carefully, with calculated spaces in between. He wanted to make sure that the fishes are cooked evenly (and in turn, avoiding that fiasco the previous year, where they were stuck eating half-cooked fish). He joined Leslie on the table and was about to sit down when the kettle blew its whistle. Leslie looked at her and motioned him to sit down as she got up. She reached for the cupboard above the sink and produced a couple of mugs and a teaspoon. Reaching the stove, she switched the flames off and poured the boiling water into the mugs. Putting the teaspoon on her mouth, she was able to carry both mugs back to the table.
“Could you get me the coffee?” she asked Roy, as she pointed to the 3-in-1 coffee packs at the middle of the table with her lips.
Roy smirked and pointed his lips to her, imitating a kiss. Leslie gently placed the mugs on the table and kissed him. “There, at last.” Roy said. “The morning greeting I was waiting for.”
Leslie smiled and reached for the coffee packs. She opened two packs and poured one on each mug. She then opened a third pack and split it between their mugs. She has learned in the last five years that they both wanted their coffee with a rich taste – something that she has always liked about him.
Roy reached for one of the mugs and slightly blew off the steam rising from it. He was thinking of taking a sip and decided against it; he’ll let it cool for a bit to a more drinkable temperature. Leslie, on the other hand, was continuously blowing on the mug, hoping for it to cool faster for her to drink. Roy watched her quietly – marveling at her lips that he can’t get enough off; her almond-shaped eyes that housed her black pupils that he never failed to get lost in; her cute nose that wrinkles every time she smells the scent of the morning sea; and her cheeks that turn red because of too much sun every time they lay down by the beach across this rental house on mid-afternoons every summer. He smiled as he said to himself how lucky he was to meet this girl.
Leaving his coffee on the table, Roy went back to the grill to flip the fish over and cook the other side. Leslie smiled as she took her first sip of her coffee while watching this man he met at the airport five years ago, and thought of how sweet he has been to her every time they see each other.
It was around three o’clock in the afternoon when they decided to hit the beach. After the sumptuous breakfast of grilled fish and rice (and their coffee, of course.), both thought it was too hot outside to lay down on the beach and agreed just do their beach bumming in the afternoon. It was also a factor for Roy that Leslie wasn’t wearing any underwear in her oversized shirt that morning and decided to have her for dessert; to which Leslie objected at first – since it was Roy’s fault anyway that she didn’t have any underwear as a result of the previous night’s “midnight snack” – but she eventually gave in as Roy was very convincing with his kisses on her neck.
The beach was just a few meters away from the house they’re staying in, bordered by a long wall that separated the houses and hotels from the beachfront (as requested by the locals to monitor the people coming to the beach, especially on wee hours). The sand was powdery white – the kind that looked like the flour that bakers use. The water was sparkling and the soft tides, inviting. This was one of the main reasons that Roy and Leslie keep coming back to this place every year, in the same month – every May.
On this month, summer is dwindling towards the rainy season – meaning less sun, more clouds. Storm season has not come in yet, bringing more waves – but not as dangerous as the waves in August and September. This month also sees the reduction in the tourists coming into this area, as the vacation season heads to a close – somehow creating a sense of exclusivity- just how they liked it.
Leslie unfolded the blanket and laid it out on the sand under a small tree. She surveyed the area and checked if there are any signs of twigs falling often or if there are heavy rain clouds on the horizon. Seeing that there aren’t any fallen twigs and the next rain cloud is far into the ocean, she began taking off her tank top and shorts, revealing a plain black two-piece bikini she recently bought for this vacation. She actually took her time choosing this bikini when she was at a mall in Manila, the previous month. She knew this would be the best one for this year’s visit to this beach. After checking at the knots of her swimsuit, she laid down face first and focused her hearing on the sound of the waves. She was anxious, and she needed to relax. The splashing of the waves hitting the shore seems to be working their magic on her until she heard someone approaching. It was Roy – and in a huff, her anxiety was back. She looked up and met his gaze.
Roy was silent. He turned his gaze back on the dancing sunlight, in between the leaves.
After a few minutes, Leslie sat up and watched the waves. The rain cloud that seemed far away earlier now seemed much closer. She felt the cool air brush her cheeks, an indication of the heavy rain coming towards them. She opened her mouth and spoke of the truth that she has been keeping since the day before – no, the months before.
Roy got up from his back and listened to her; although, his mind didn’t get past the first twelve words. It echoed in his head all throughout the time she was talking. He felt numb; his eyes suddenly lost interest in the lights and was all of a sudden, welling with tears. He clenched his fists and endured the words as they came. He can’t bear to look at her right now, but he is.
He didn’t notice the kids along the shore suddenly running for shelter, nor the change in the expression of Leslie’s face as she slightly shielded her face, nor the raindrops that fell on his head as the raincloud that was earlier far away, but is now on directly above them. Roy stood up and walked towards the shore. He stopped at the point where the waves barely reaching his feet, looked up at the sky, and closed his eyes. He raised his arms, as he tried to wash away the numbness he’s feeling. In that moment, he wasn’t seeing, hearing, or feeling anything – except the cold drops of the rain on his skin, giving him the feeling that he wanted. He stood there, for a while, gathering his thoughts – as Leslie was watching him painfully.
After a while, he turned to face her. Roy smiled wistfully. He walked towards her and cupped her face in his hands. The rain was getting stronger, as if it was nature’s way of helping them hide their tears and heartbreak. They kissed; a long, passionate kiss that quenched the longing that they had for each other. They only stopped when they ran out of breath, both from the kiss and the rain flowing down their faces. They looked into each other’s eyes.
“Let’s just finish this vacation,” Roy began. “Enjoy the few remaining days here in Pagudpud, like nothing happened. Just like how we enjoy it every year..”
“..since five years ago.” Leslie finished.
Roy nodded and kissed her lovingly. He only let go of her to pick up the blanket and Leslie’s discarded tank top and shorts. He held out his hand and Leslie grasped it. Hand in hand, they walked back towards the inn. They never spoke of it again for the rest of the trip, except on the day they were heading back to Manila.
The rest of the week went with a breeze. They agreed to enjoy the vacation, of which they did. They went on a touring Ilocos Norte in the day; got drunk in the evening; and made passionate love before falling asleep. Roy made sure the memories he’s making will not be forgotten, while Leslie made sure that she does everything so she would have no regrets later on. Day in and day out, they ignored the looming last day of the vacation. Not a word was mentioned about it; not a subject close to it was discussed. They kept their word. This was after all, their final vacation.
Just like in the last five years, Leslie worked with the van driver on the itinerary while Roy slept on the van. Roy took amazing pictures of Leslie, while she gamely posed on the different tourist destinations. They ate local delicacies, drank the local wine with their house host, and laughed their hearts out – aware that this may never happen again.
Roy woke up earlier than Leslie, as usual. But on that day, he didn’t immediately get up. He looked at the woman beside him – the woman he’s been with for the past few days – and made sure he memorized all the details of her lovely face. The face that he possibly would not be able to see again. He didn’t know how long he’s been looking at her, but it must have been a long time as Leslie began to wake up. Roy got up, slipped his shorts on, and went to the kitchen to fix some breakfast. He met the house host in the kitchen, sipping his morning coffee.
“Good morning, Manong Nards!”, Roy greeted, as he went to the cupboard to get two mugs and a teaspoon.
“Good morning, Dr. De Leon,” Manong Nards greeted back and pointed at the kettle on the stove. ”Water’s already ready for you and your wife’s coffee.”
“Uy, thank you, Manong!” Roy poured the remaining hot water from the kettle into the two mugs. He picked up two packs of 3-in-1 instant coffee and poured the contents into the mugs. “And I told you, manong, call me Roy.”
Manong Nards waived it off. “I’ll call you doctor, just like I call all other doctors doctor. You studied medicine, passed your exams, and your boards – you deserve the respect that comes with the title.”
Roy smiled and blew the steam off his mug. He suddenly remembered something. “How’s your son, Ding? He’s been in the US for two years now, right?”
Manong Nards nodded. “Yes, he just got his green card a couple of months back. He still calls every day just to check on me.” The old man sipped on his cup and gazed out the window longingly. “Although, I have to admit it does get a bit sad sometimes.”
Roy felt sad for the old man. “Up to when is his contract?”
“He’s on a five-year contract, but he says he likes it there already.” The old man cleared his throat. “But that’s not the reason I’m getting a bit sad.”
Roy took a sip of his coffee and brought down his mug, looking at Manong Nards intently.
The old man sighed. “I’m selling this house.”
Roy was caught off guard. Coffee nearly came out of his nose and it felt like his nasal cavity was burnt. “What? Why? But..” He was at a loss for words.
“The house is too big for me. I’m moving to a smaller apartment closer to Laoag City.” Explained the house host. “The money I’ll get will be my savings and retirement fund.”
“Why Laoag? And isn’t this already retirement for you?”
“Actually, I will only be living there until my son’s petition gets approved.” The old man continued. “He’ll file the petition in a couple of months.”
Roy was shocked. “So, that means, you won’t be the owner of this place anymore by next year?”
The old man nodded. “It has been a wonderful five years of your patronage of our place. I will miss you and your wife, Dr. De Leon.”
Although feeling sad, Roy extended his hand. “I hope the petition gets approved as soon as it gets filed, Manong Nards.. and thank you for the five best summers of my life.”
Manong Nards took his hand and shook it. “And I hope you have kids soon”.
They both laughed.
The old man got up. “You better wake up your wife. Your van will be here in an hour to take you to the airport.”
“So, Manong Nards is leaving, huh?” Leslie began as she sipped from her bottled water.
“Yeah. I guess this really is the last vacation for us.” Rued Roy.
Leslie glanced at the flight information screens in front of them. Her flight is leaving in half an hour. She’s already checked in. Roy noticed her foot tapping nervously, as if she doesn’t want to leave or she’s waiting for him to say something.
Roy broke the silence. “I’m going back to the beach today.”
Leslie was surprised. “I thought your flight was today?”
Roy smiled. “I called and booked another flight tomorrow morning. I also talked to Manong Nards that I’m just dropping you off here and I’ll be back after your flight leaves. I’ve also arranged our van driver will take me here tomorrow, as well.”
Now, it was Leslie who was at a loss for words.
Roy turned to face her. “Les?”
“Yeah..?” her voice breaking.
“That day on the beach.. tell me again..”
“I.. I.. I can’t..”
Roy held her shoulders and turned her to face him. He looked at her lovingly, “Yes, you can… tell me… Dr. Reyes…”
Struggling with herself, voice cracking, Leslie tried to steel herself. She looked into her lover’s eyes and began, ”I’m still Dr. De Leon until I get on that plane..” she choked.
Roy smiled sadly.
Leslie started sobbing as she began telling him again the words that broke his heart on that beach.
“Mike and I have agreed…” Leslie started. “We’re going to try having a baby..”
Roy face was blank, expressionless.
“I think it’s about time to give him what he wants – a family. We talked about it and agreed. He said we’ve put our careers before our marriage for the longest time and there was nothing I could say to that.” She stopped for a moment and looked at Roy. “The last five summers have been heaven for me, when I was with you – in this fake conference for doctors we came up with the first time we did this, after ditching the real conference that year.”
Roy was silent, and it’s killing Leslie inside.
“Please ask me to stay, please ask me to stay..” her mind screamed.
Tears welled up on Roy’s eyes.
“When I saw you at the hotel lobby on that day, and you asked if you could have the extra coffee left on my second pack of 3-in-1.. I knew as our eyes met, that we were meant to meet that day – and share something special. Those pictures you took of me whenever we went on tour – of which I always tell Mike that it was the van driver who takes them – those were taken by someone who finds me beautiful in every way.”
“The sweet music of your snoring at the back of the van – or even after we made love and you fall asleep almost immediately – that sound will haunt me and be missed by me. And this,” Leslie pounded her chest ”..this feeling welling up, I know what it is. It is not only the feeling that I’ll miss you.. not only the feeling that we may never have all of this again.. but.. but..”
Leslie was interrupted by the laughter of the kids running from the shore, seeking shelter from the rain. She looked up and felt the gathered rain from the leaves drop on her face. Roy was still quiet. She was trying to decide whether to gather her clothes first or pull him to a nearby hut to shelter them from the rain, when Roy got up and walked towards the shore. He stopped at the point where the waves barely reaching his feet, looked up at the sky, and closed his eyes.
He raised his arms, as if he was trying to wash away all that he’s feeling. In that moment, she knew, he wasn’t seeing, hearing, or feeling anything – except the cold drops of the rain on his skin. He stood there, for a while – as she painfully watched him.
“Last call for boarding, Flight bound for Manila.” called the lady in the airport speakers.
Leslie looked up and sighed.“I guess that’s me.” She pulled a handkerchief from her bag and wiped her flowing tears. “This is on you, you ruined my make-up.” she continued, as she sobbed. Leslie looked at Roy and frowned, the frown that Roy will miss.
Roy stepped closer and held her face by his hands.
“Tell me.” He whispered. “Tell me what you were going to say before it rained.”
Leslie slowly lifted her face and met his gaze. His hazelnut-colored eyes; eyes that pierced her soul every moment before she closes her eyes to kiss – would forever be etched in her heart. She gathered herself for the last time.
“This feeling welling up, I know what it is. It is not only the feeling that I’ll miss you… not only the feeling that we may never have all of this again.. but…” She paused, to look at him one last time. “But that we may never see each other again… and it will kill me if I don’t let go of myself and tell you how much I wanted you… how, slowly, I’m feeling that you are the love of my life and it pains me that I will be alone in this now… and how much my heart will ache until I see you again.” And with that, Leslie cried. Unabashedly.
Roy gently pulled her to a hug. There were the feelings, out there in the open; but both knew already what they would do.
Roy whispered. “We may or may not see each other again, Dr. Reyes..”
Leslie looked at her and pouted.
“…Dr. De Leon…” Roy corrected. She smiled a bit.
“Whenever you feel alone, just have a cup of coffee – the way we have it.. and know that somewhere out there.. the other half of your soul is having the same cup of coffee with you.”
And with that, Roy kissed Leslie for the last time as the lady airport voice announced her name.
“Ms. Leslie Reyes, Ms. Leslie Reyes.. this is your last call for boarding. The plane will depart in 5 minutes, please proceed to Gate 5.”
They slowly pulled their lips and opened their eyes.
“Goodbye, Dr. De Leon”, began Roy.
“…Goodbye, Dr. De Leon.” Finished Leslie. She slowly turned to walk towards the direction of her boarding gate. After a few steps, she stopped and turned.. and Roy, whom she met in a hotel five years ago here in Ilocos for a medical conference; whom she spent the last five summers with on fake conferences; who has taken her most beautiful photos; and who has touched her soul like no one ever had – has vanished from where he was.
A tear rolled down her cheek as she continued towards her boarding gate, promising herself that she won’t be returning to Ilocos any time soon.