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A Different Love

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“I want to be loud about my love... I deserve it. Just like you deserve your time inside. You do.”

From that day, Vlad had been careful. He kept his distance. He knows that the boy he loves was not ready. He told Karl he will try moving on. Karl smiles, bitter as it may be, Vlad deserves to be happy. Karl thinks that in an alternate universe he could have been the one making Vlad happy, but in reality, he knows he can’t. Not now. Not anytime soon. And it would be unfair and selfish, it would be too much to tie him down and ask for Vlad to wait.

Vlad turns to social media. He matches with some random boy on Tinder and they started talking. It was just supposed to be for fun. It was just supposed to be a distraction. They both know that. They went on a date not expecting much. A hook-up maybe, a fling at most. But they had more in common than what they expected. Martin knows what it's like to not have stable relationships because of scared partners. That is exactly why he has chosen this way of life, hook-ups here and there to fill the void, no string attached. Commitment can be his Halloween costume. Martin knows how it is to be out and proud but scared to love. Martin knows how hard it is. Martin gets it. They chose to be friends. It was supposed to be a friendship shared among people with similar experiences. Then one day they realize they already have more than that. Somewhere along the way love bloomed. They don’t exactly know when, but within themselves, they know it did.

Maybe that one sleepover when Vlad finally convinced Martin to watch an art film and Martin genuinely enjoyed it? Or maybe it was when Vlad went with Martin to the gayest party ever and took care of him when he blacked out? Maybe it was just one of the random nights when they went out for a drive talking about everything and nothing at the same time.

There is comfort. They both thought it was just them developing a close friendship, a camaraderie of sorts. There is nothing wrong with that. They love that. They've shared a friendly kiss and they cuddle without malice. It is what friends do. Should be able to do. So, when they woke up one day confused if it is turning into something more, it was scary. Both were scared to lose a friendship this beautiful. Vlad was scared. Martin was scared. They both drifted a bit to allow space to think.

Martin is all too familiar with being ghosted. Too familiar. The Martin then wouldn't have cared. Flings come and go. But Vlad is not a fling. Vlad is a dear friend. No matter how scary, he is not ready to let this go.

Vlad is too familiar with being left behind. Too familiar. The Vlad then would have escaped somewhere to be alone and drink his worries away. But Vlad has learned the importance of closure especially with people you care about. It’s what pushed him for one last drink with A and what kept his friendship with Karl. Martin is worth the effort and worth the heartbreak; if it ever comes to that. He hopes to God it doesn’t. He is a dear friend and he can’t lose him like this.

Vlad reaches out first. He invites Martin to meet up at their favorite spot. An overlooking spot in Antipolo. Martin wears his armor as he alights the Grab car. It’s the mask of indifference he hasn’t used with Vlad since the first month of knowing the curly-haired boy. He was ready to rip the band-aid off. If it hurts it hurts. But the look on Vlad's face as he gets in the boy’s car disarmed him faster than he would have liked. The boy looked fragile. Part of him would just like to put the armor that was supposed to protect him to the boy in front of him. Vlad has been through a lot. He doesn't deserve Martin's mask of indifference. He offers a smile as he takes the passenger seat, a seat he has been very familiar with in the past months.

Vlad thinks he already took the first step by initiating the meet-up so might as well start the conversation too.

“Hey”

“Hey”

“Long time”

“And who's fault is that?”

Vlad felt his heart clench. “Mine. I know. Sorry.“

Martin notices and smiles. “Nope, wrong answer. Ayan nanaman yung martyr tendencies mo Vladimir”

Vlad can’t help but smile back. “Ay ginamit full name ko seryoso siya.”

They share a lighthearted laugh despite the tension in the air.

“Yes Vlad. Seryoso ako. I miss you.”

Vlad looks ahead. “And I, you.”

Martin gives the other a light slap. “Arte! Me too na lang eh. Scripted ba to?”

“Oi grabe ka kung scripted to I’ll be using more powerful and flowery words. You underestimate my screenplay.”

“Gaga ka talaga.”

“Ikaw din.”

“Yeah I know. Gaga naman talaga ako matagal na natin na-establiah yan.”

“Yeah pero for some reason gusto pa din kita.”

The air thickens. Either of them can make a joke out of it but they both recognized that it is a chance to address the elephant in the room. Vlad was not planning to drop it that casually. Martin was right, he had a rough script in his head. He prepared himself for different scenarios but not this one.

Beat. It's out there. Vlad was willing to take the chance, but Martin takes it upon himself to ease the tension. He could almost hear Vlad's internal monologue and it made him smile.

“Well, that's nice to hear. Na someone likes me enough to accept yung nga kagagahan ko. Thank you Vlad. Kasi hinahayaan mo akong maging ako pero di mo rin ako pinapabayaan. Gets ba?”

He chuckles. Vlad loves this view. Martin, unguarded baring his feelings.

“Pero Vlad, can we clarify that?”

You can hear a hint of a pleading tone laced in that simple sentence.

“Gusto mo ba ako as a friend or do you feel something more?”

Martin breaks eye contact, he can only be so brave.

Silence. He takes a deep breath and looks at Vlad again, steeling his heart for whatever answer he hears.

“Vlad okay lang kung as a friend lang. Gusto ko lang malinaw kasi importante ka sakin. Alam mo yan.”

His heart breaks a he says that. He is used to running away and sweeping things under the rug but Vlad has the tendency to make people braver. Vlad deserves this bravery even if it hurts Martin deep inside.

“Marts I'm sorry.”

Martin was ready to storm out. He can only be so brave. But his seatbelt is still on, force of habit, and before he can free himself, Vlad takes his hand.

Tears are forming in Vlad's eyes.

“I'm sorry mahal kita. Not just as a friend. Wag ka aalis please. I don’t mind if you don’t like me back. I'll get over the feelings kasi gusto kita pero hindi mo ko kailangan gustuhin. Promise kaya ko yun. You know me.”

Martin shouldn’t be surprised. He knows how much Vlad loves, enough to sacrifice his own happiness, but he is still overwhelmed to be at the receiving end of a confession like that.

“Hey. Vlad look at me.”

Their eyes meet and Martin smiles

“Thank you... for being honest with me.” He kisses Vlad's hand.

“You are also precious to me and if I could i don’t want to lose you. I'm scared Vlad. People I like leave me a lot so natatakot ako sabihing gusto kita. Up until a few moments ago natatakot pa rin ako. Pero you know what to say. Writer ka talaga.” They both smile at that. “Salamat sa assurance na our friendship is that important to you.”

Vlad was still surprised. That's a lot coming from Martin.

Martin reached out, was initially aiming for the hair but he remembered all the stories and reached for the cheek instead. He cupped his face.

“Ang ibig kong sabihin Vlad, gusto din kita at kahit natatakot ako worth it tumaya sayo.”

Vlad holds the others hand still in his face and snuggles on it. He then kisses the others hand.

“Sino kaya satin ang writer.”

Martin slaps those cute cheeks.

“Gaga ka ang sweet na nung moment di mo pa binigay sakin eh.”

This time its Vlad who reaches for his cheeks, "Don’t worry it won’t be the last, love"

“Hoy anong love love ka diyan? Bakit may pet name agad? Gaano na ba kahaba yang script sa utak mo ha, cupcake?”

“Eww Marts. Cupcake? Really? Hindi darling honey bunch sugarcake pumpyumpyampkin---"

“Nako Vlad ikaw talaga” Sabay hampas. Tears are flowing from their eyes, but they are happy.

That thing they write about, yung nag-aalign yung stars, Vlad thinks maybe this is how it feels.

He dropped off Martin at his place that night with a kiss on the cheek and a promised date the next weekend. A date with his boyfriend.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Martin took Vlad outside.

For the first time, Vlad was able to hold his boyfriend's hand while they walk around the mall.

For the first time he was able to post a date pic in his Instagram account.

For the first time, he found someone who was willing to be loud about his love.

For the first time, he was able to cuddle his boyfriend as they watch a movie in the Austria household. Martin was able to hold his own against his ate, dati pa naman nung friends pa lang sila, but it hits different ngayon na boyfriend niya na.

For the first time he was introduced as one’s boyfriend. He met Martin's family and friends as the boyfriend.

It was liberating. It wasn't all sunshine and butterflies and rainbows. They still fight. They can be very jealous and petty, but they have their friendship to go back to. They know where it is coming from and they talk about it. It is a love that pushes them to choose each other every day.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

It was just a typical night. Martin scrolling through his phone while waiting for Vlad to setup the TV and snuggle next to him.

And Vlad does, but he gets an extra kiss on the cheek as well.

“I love you babe.”

“Ay ang landi Vlad! Anong meron? Makati ka tonight?”

“Ang gago mo.”

Martin pulls him close and kisses his hair. “ ’To naman joke lang yung ang landi mo. Alam naman nating ako yung mas malandi in general. Tinatanong ko lang malay mo lang.” He wiggles his eyebrows and Vlad actually blushes at the thought. But Martin smiles and it’s Vlad’s favorite kind. The one that makes him feel loved and adored. “You know i don’t mind random bursts of cute affection from my baby. Curious lang ako.”

And Vlad does that small baby pout thing that makes Martin’s heart skip a bit. “Wala lang. As you’ve said, random. Bigla ko na lang nafifeel na shet mahal na mahal ko talaga tong gagong ‘to.”

“Wushu~~~~”. Martin won’t admit but yes kinikilig siya sa mga ganitong antics ni Vlad.

“Oo nga kasi.”

Vlad sits properly and looks Martin in the eye. “Thank you. For writing this alternate ending with me.”

Martin softens and gives Vlad a quick peck on the lips. He then holds Vlad close and wishes he feels all the love and warmth he can offer.

“Mahaba pa kwento natin Vlad. Dadalhin pa natin ang isa't-isa kung saan-saan.”
. . .