11/23 extra 1
Huh? This is the last chapter already? That was fast! Justice for TeamLeche!¹NBSB - No Boyfriend Since Birth
“Perhaps to experience true happiness, one must accept the broken self.”
If given a chance to relive a past, Jhing Blanco’s smiling lips wouldn’t hesitate to answer a day: 11/23. Not to change it, no. Nothing to fix. It was perfect as it is. She just wants to re-watch that one perfect night and say “you’ve made the right choice” to herself while tapping her own shoulder.
Reality check: she couldn’t go back to the year 2016.
There was no turning back.
Only moving forward.
The smile on her lips vanished when July and Yayo looked at her with creased foreheads. Even though she was looking at her screen, her ears were focused on the two—afraid of what they will say.
“Are you sure you're going to wear that?“
There. July said it.
What's wrong with simple shirt and jeans? Jhing had been living her 25 years in the world and her list of responsibilities never included makeup and dressing up.
But July and Yayo had other plans.
That's why when they attended the premiere night, Jhing was all dressed up like a disguised princess—her brown hair down and even curling at the tips, the natural makeup, and her white long-sleeved flowing dress just above her knee.
As Jhing looked at the mirror, she looked like a decent angel… with horns which, by the way, looked overdressed for the event.
A few readers showed up early so they quickly got busy entertaining them. Jhing, however, couldn't help but glance around—searching for a particular face.
But there was none.
He was nowhere.
He also didn't send her a text.
“Jhing!” Fall called from the cinema’s entrance. The audience is now walking inside. “Let's go!”
Fall started a tug-of-war with Jhing but the latter's stubbornness won. She stood there, outside, like a lost puppy, waiting for her person.
Her anger and happiness mixed when he called.
But what he said through the phone wiped her smile out.
“I can't come,” his voice, heavy in Jhing’s heart. “Traffic. The movie will end before I get to reach the place.”
Jhing wanted to cry. She was waiting for him to come! He promised and she believed him! The expectation crashed her but she still managed to smile.
It's NOT okay! But hell, what else can she do? Jhing felt like someone died as she entered the cinema.
“Are you sure?”
Jhing couldn't help but get mad. “Do I have a fucking choice?”
He laughed. “Insist for me to come and I might fly to where you are.”
Before she could step on the stairs, someone grabbed her arm.
Jhing almost screamed for help if not for realizing the familiar face that was smiling brightly at her.
They looked like idiots, talking on the phone, in front of each other.
“Why were you outside?”
“Because the person on the phone was being dramatic." Jhing’s brow arched while Miko chuckled. “Why are you here so quick?”
“I teleported. There was actually a traffic in the sky too ah."
Jhing rolled her eyes and shook her head— from disappointment? From relief? She didn’t know.
“There were so many customers in the workshop,” Miko explained as they sat on their corresponding seats. “Seems like Mom was telling the truth—it's hard to manage two coffee shop."
He smelled like coffee and books— Jhing’s favorite scent.
Then Fall hissed from the side. “You should just break up if he keeps coming late."
Miko glared at Fall. “I'll push you off your chair, Fall.”
Fall stuck her tongue out.
“I'll ban you from entering KapeLibro,” Miko shot back.
Fall’s eyes widened. She feigned shock and pain before frowning. “I'll tell Jhing that you're bullying me.”
Miko and Fall looked at Jhing at the same time with glints in their eyes. But Jhing dismissed the two. “Sshh! The movie is starting.”
It was hard for Jhing to concentrate on the movie. Not because it wasn’t her novella that got the big screen because she wasn’t popular enough to win the trending contest…
But because Miko was holding her hand and intertwined it with his—even squeezing it from time to time.
Her heart wanted to jump out of her chest. Fuck it. Her heartbeat is killing her.
Jhing forced herself not to smile when Miko leaned his head on her shoulder. His hair tingled on her neck and when he moved his head, Jhing could feel his warm breath on her jaw.
“I'm bored,” he complained.
She didn't turn her head to look at Miko because she was afraid of the mere inches distance from her face. “Someone will hear you.”
Miko frowned. “Your novella should've won the movie—ah, I even created a bunch of twitter accounts."
Of course, Jhing was disappointed, but does she need to sit in the corner and cry just because she didn't get the chance? Well, fine. She did get depressed for a day or two. She also lost her mood to do anything. Even if Miko took the effort to drown her with Maltesers chocolates, it had no effect on Jhing.
But c’mon, she moved on from that shit. There are still opportunities in the future. Or maybe it wasn’t just meant for her—that there’s a bigger plan for her. Maybe.
“I told you—you should've changed the title to Ms. Ice Meets Mr. Crazy,” Miko said.
“Wow.” Jhing rolled her eyes. “You’re the one who suggested that You Had Me at Seenzoned.“
“That was way back in chat,” he said while shaking his head. “I didn't think you'll still remember everything I told you."
To stop Miko’s daily ego boost, Jhing said, “It's fine already.”
“It's fine because you have me anyway, right?” Miko wiggled his eyebrows and smiled.
“I can just give you to someone else."
“Awts.” Miko lifted his head and stared at Jhing who was still looking at the screen. "Can't you at least pretend that you love me?"
Jhing, finally looked at Miko, at his eyes, and swore to the gods she won’t let go of the man in front of her ever again.
She smiled, but the butterflies in her stomach flipped when Miko’s eyes fell to her lips as she bit it.
Because of the nervousness, Jhing leaned on Miko's wide shoulder and tightened the hand holding his. She could feel his breath hitched and felt the vibration when he softly laughed.
“Are you pretending right now or not?”
Jhing closed her eyes, not minding the movie, and let herself dissolved with her heartbeat that matched Miko’s.
"Guess,” she whispered.
Miko gently fixed Jhing's head on his shoulder. Miko was ticklish. He would laugh from time to time when Jhing’s hair would touch his skin, and when she wanted to move away, the man didn't let her.
A few minutes of silence, Miko whispered, “Jhing. Did you dress up for me?”
Miko laughed and wiggled his shoulder so it felt like Jhing's vision shook. "I guess you felt embarrassed because I'm so handsome ."
Jhing sat up straight up before rolling her eyes. "Lol."
It was at that moment when the audience started shrieking because the leads of the movie kissed each other.
Suddenly, Miko’s grip tightened.
Jhing felt his presence crystal clear—their knees that were sticking to each other, arms that were linking, hands that are intertwined, and Miko's breathing—he filled up Jhing's whole being.
She could even feel Miko's stare at her, but all she did was a fail attempt to concentrate on the movie. Jhing couldn't help but feel awkward as she watches the male lead kiss the female lead for a whole minute.
When the movie ended, Jhing went out of her trance. They started chatting as they went out of the cinema and took pictures with the celebrities, director, and co-authors. After a long time, they decided to eat late dinner. While walking, Jhing heard July and Yayo’s voice from the side.
“I thought they were ex,” Yayo said.
July sighed. “They weren't in courtship phase either.”
Jhing shook her head. She found out that they had a bet way back in what Jhing and Miko's real score is. Both of them lost money. Fall was the one who won because she was the keen observer, they have something, but not there yet, she bet.
Miko was the one that picked Fall as the winner but Jhing knew that was because he owed Fall something.
As they walked, Miko's hand brushed hers and her veins tingled.
Weird though, Jhing wanted to grab his hand and hold him tight.
But she was the one who wanted to avoid PDA—Public Display of Affection, which Miko respected; that's why they only walked casually side by side even though everyone close to them knows that they’ve been together for months already. And that they had something from the past.
The daydreaming stopped when Miko nudged her.
“What's your peace offering for your Tatay?” he asked.
Jhing frowned. She forgot about that so she shrugged. “I don't know.”
“Think about it,” he insisted. “Remember what I told you? I was being too stubborn so my Dad—”
“Yeah. You couldn't ask for forgiveness even if you want to. He's already gone," Jhing sighed.
Miko gently pats her head. He smiled as they entered the restaurant. “You need to do the things you want to do with the person you love while they are still with you," he said as they sat. “Regrets are only felt when it's all too late. You might turn into an emo again ah.”
He really can't help himself but fool around. Jhing almost slapped him.
As the group ordered food, Miko and Jhing isolated themselves from the real world. The bubble around them was stronger than before. Jhing didn't even notice her officemates' gazes towards them.
She didn’t like attention, while Miko didn’t mind. Even though he noticed the teasing smiles, Miko still focused all his attention on Jhing like she was a prized possession and looking away from her would be a disgrace to his family honor.
“Dammit. You're making me feel guilty."
Miko’s laugh, for Jhing, was music in her ears—but it wasn’t the right time, so she frowned. “Do you feel guilty?”
“I'm innocent ah!” Miko held Jhing’s hand under the table and squeezed it a bit. “Just try it.”
“I don't know when or how to start."
“Talk to him?” he suggested.
Jhing grunted. “Easier said than done.”
“Let him read your letter?"
She rolled her eyes. “Hah.”
“You hate all my suggestions." Miko frowned and tried to act cute.
They stared at each other for a moment before Jhing’s gaze passed Miko and saw a man giving a muffin to his daughter outside the resto. The act made her heart burn a little as she looked at Miko again and tried to smile. She heaved a sigh. Miko’s expression was a combination of both disappointment and hope.
“I'll just buy him a cake.”
His brow arched. “What will a cake do?”
“Slap your face, bwisit,” she said, but instead of getting angry, Miko laughed. "Write Happy Birthday on it? I never gave him anything. It’s a start, right?”
Miko couldn't help but hug his arm over Jhing’s shoulder and pulled her closer. Jhing’s cheeks burned when she felt Miko’s lips touched her forehead as he whispered, “I'm proud of you.”
Jhing couldn't smile when the group started whistling. "Woah, woah, woah!"
She kept on dismissing them and turned to Miko for help but the idiot was enjoying the teasing, of course. What did Jhing expect? He even held her tighter. And because July and Yayo were the giddy girls, they kept pushing Jhing closer to Miko.
In the end, her face hit Miko's neck, chest, and chin. "Ag!" Jhing held her lips when it smacked against Miko's shoulder. "Enough! That hurts!"
“Your lips hurt?” Miko’s question made Jhing tense. She avoided Miko’s eyes.
Gods. Her heart was killing her.
“Kiss her, Miko,” Yayo teased. “So the pain will go away.”
Both Miko and Jhing’s eyes widened when the group started cheering, kiss her, kiss her. And fuck it, even those strangers from other table looked at them. They laughed, cheered and teased—Miss Zue and Sir Franz that rarely fools around actually joined the group this time!
Jhing kept wiping her cold sweaty hands on her dress. She habitually bit her lip which was a wrong move because the teasing increased.
“Uy, Jhing is biting her lips~”
Jhing glanced at Miko and saw the man staring at her lips. She became conscious and anxious. "It doesn't hurt anymore," she said as her cheeks burned. “Enough already.”
Ugh. Yayo was such a fangirl!
Jhing almost jumped on her seat when Miko’s hand landed on her shoulder.
When they looked into each other’s eyes, she gulped.
Her heart is jumping out of her chest!
While her whole body turned into stone as she watches Miko leaning closer and closer to her.
They almost went deaf because of the loud cheering but Miko and Jhing were only seeing each other's right at this moment.
The world almost stopped when Miko’s lips landed… on the side of Jhing's lips.
And just like that, everything that happened after didn’t make sense anymore. Jhing would smile, laugh, nod, and shake her head, but her mind could only repeat how warm his lips were on the side of her lips. She can still feel the skin burning even though they were already on the bus ride home to Quezon to visit her family.
“Are you okay?” Miko asked while he held the cake on his lap.
All she could do was nod.
As she pretended to be asleep, her heart pounded and stomach churned. She felt really embarrassed at the tingling feeling all over her body which sucked big time. Why can't she move on? Her thoughts keep distracting her!
The whole ride, Jhing couldn't look at Miko directly.
Shit. This is Yayo and July's fault!
Jhing's siblings greeted Miko and her at the door when they reached home. It was a good thing, really. Enteng and the others distracted Miko away from her so Jhing was relieved. But she was scared— she will see her Tatay again after a long time.
“Tatay will be here in the evening," her Nanay said to her as she kissed Jhing’s forehead. “How about you and Miko, how is it going?”
Jhing turned her head to Miko who was playing with her siblings in the bedroom. She quickly looked away when the man met her eyes. Agh, is she acting like a teenager-in-love or what?
She's blaming herself for being less romantic because of her NBSB¹ status that's why she acts like a little virgin—wait, what? She is a virgin! And heck. Why the hell was she thinking about this?!
Jhing calmed herself. That was not a kiss. His lips only hit the side of my lips… yeah, that's it. But the pep talk didn’t calm the fuck out of her because when evening came, and her Tatay came home, Jhing still felt nervous. Although, it was amazing that Miko was talking to her Tatay as if they were good old friends. And her Tatay wasn’t shouting and even greeted her good evening.
She was scared. Her fear can't disappear so quick after all, but as she watches her Tatay and Miko eat the cake she brought, it felt quite… nice.
When the night deepens, and almost everyone was asleep, Jhing went out of her room. There was like a mouse scratching her heart whenever she remembers Miko's lips on hers.
Jhing reached the backyard… and was surprised to see Miko there, standing still.
She wanted to sneakily go back inside but she froze when Miko spoke without turning his head.
“You can't sleep?” he asked, and she swears she saw him grin as he said, “You missed me already?”
Jhing rolled her eyes as she stood beside Miko. “You wish.”
He smirked. “Denial queen.”
When their laughter subsided, the surrounding fell silent. Jhing doesn't know if she was the only one who felt awkward—or does he feel the same? She saw his hand forming a fist from time to time. Clearly, he felt restless.
A few minutes of silence, Miko looked at her. “Are you happy?”
Jhing closed her eyes for a moment before answering sincerely. "Peaceful."
Miko wrapped his arm around Jhing’s shoulder. She can hear a heart beating fast— not too sure anymore if it was hers, or his. Or both.
“Me too.” They stood like that for a few minutes.
Then Miko broke the silence. “Jhing.”
Before Jhing can react, a hand pulled her head closer as warmth landed on her skin. Miko kissed her temple. Before she could even breathe, he whispered to her hair.
He lowered his head to kiss Jhing's cheek.
And tilted his head to reach Jhing’s nose as he kissed the tip of it.
Jhing just stared.
Miko broke their staring competition and closed his eyes as he reached the sky with both of his hands. He took a deep breath as if he wasn't able to do it while he was kissing her a while ago.
After stretching, it was clear that Miko was avoiding Jhing’s eyes when he said, “Let's go back.”
He didn't wait for her answer as he turned his back but Jhing’s hand had a mind of its own as she reached for the hem of his shirt to stop his movements.
As he looked back, both of them studied each other—like works of art in their majestic glory, with a hint of splatters that created a beautiful subject to admire. Like a novel, with every flip of the pages, feelings would burst for the letters and words were woven in imperfect perfection.
Jhing saw Miko ruffled his hair.
Then he stepped closer.
Miko reached for her cheeks, caressing it, and burning it like a fire that was ignited just from a single touch of his. Jhing was hypnotized by his stare and all she could do was to anticipate as his face got closer.
The rain didn’t object.
The whole universe was quiet.
And so was everything, from the stars above the night sky to the light from the lamp post, even the bristling of trees, and the music of the wind, their hearts pounding, and the two matching souls.
All were perfect.
Even life and death and everything in between stood still as it waits for the perfect moment when Jhing and Miko closed their eyes and claimed each other’s lips.
For 25 years, Jhing knew she had been good with words and putting the feelings on paper. But the moment his lips were pressed against hers, no words came out.
Even her mind didn’t function well as he moved his warm lips to deepen the kiss.
Her system lost all the logic in life.
She felt dumb.
And feeling stupid wasn’t as bad as how the others defined it.
Jhing's hands were clutching at Miko’s shirt near his chest as if she was afraid that if she won’t hold onto him well, she’d collapse. The pounding of her chest became harder like it wanted to jump right out of her and be with Miko for the rest of its life, for as long as it beats.
The feelings were overflowing; frightened that she wouldn’t be able to handle it. But Miko guided Jhing to the sound of their heartbeat. Like partners; dancing, moving rhythmically at the music created by their beating hearts in full harmony.
They’ve tasted each other’s happiness, sadness, and all the emotions in between, as if sharing it meant surrendering to each other, accepting every fiber, desperate to feel each other’s strengths and weaknesses as he drew closer and she held him tighter, memorizing every inch of their soul.
And as if letting go would poison them both.
But of course, even the most wondrous of enigma must be ruined by something.
The magic of Miko and Jhing’s kiss was shattered by things that fell from above.
No, not raindrops.
But boxes, lots of it.
There were boxes piled up in their backyard and Jhing unknowingly hit the tower with her back. One by one, the boxes fell like Jenga and made a loud noise which made the magic they created vanish into thin air.
Miko was so shocked that he unconsciously embraced Jhing. "Shit." He placed his head on top of hers as the man continued cursing in between hoarse breathing, "Shit…"
Jhing didn't speak. She was busy catching her breath. She felt their heartbeat, and the swelling of her lips and the warmth and feeling that lingered—even her stomach churned because of the zoo inside her.
“I feel nervous,” Miko said as he kissed Jhing’s hair.
His embrace tightens as he didn't know if he would cry or laugh. “Ahh… what should I do…“
Jhing, on the other hand, laughed without knowing why.
Maybe… to ease the awkwardness after? Or maybe she felt ticklish all over her body? Her laughed made Miko laughed too—and at the middle of the night, they looked like fools laughing their ass off.
For what? They didn’t know.
But one word, though: Epic.
The couple fixed the boxes scattering around them before they went back inside the house. Jhing walked directly to the bedroom but Miko held her back.
"Can you stay here with me, please?" Miko begged while pointing at the futon on the floor. "You can just return before they wake up ah…"
“I would still be asleep that time!” Jhing said.
Miko’s smile widened. “Oh, well…YOLO?”
Jhing rolled her eyes but she still laid down next to Miko. They were laying on their side to face each other as they started whispering and chatting until the couple yawned at the same time.
They stared at each other as if etching the image of their lover inside their mind. Silence covered them but it was calm, secure, right and comfortable. When Miko smiled, Jhing couldn’t keep herself from smiling too.
Miko whispered, “Good night.”
“Good night,” replied Jhing.
They only stayed for a few days in the province so early on Sunday, Jhing's Tatay sent them off to the terminal. Miko didn't ask for a hug from the elderly. It was a silent agreement, to be casual, or to make one step at a time. Her Tatay nodded as they bid goodbye which Jhing returned with a shy smile.
She went inside the bust first while Miko stayed a little further with her Tatay.
From the window, Jhing could see Miko’s serious face talking to her Tatay who was smiling. She only looked away when her Tatay glanced at her direction. For an unexplainable reason, her heart was pounding again.
When the conductor called for the last time, Miko finally entered the bus and waved goodbye making her Tatay shook his head with a smile.
“What did you two talk about?” Jhing asked the second he sat next to her. "Why was he smiling like that…”
Miko shrugged as a reply. “Your Tatay and I are tropas now,” he said as he puffed his chest proudly. The bus started its engine. “Seems like he prefers me as a son than a daughter like you.”
Jhing rolled her eyes. “Why doesn't he adopt you then?”
“Hay, my beybeh is jealous.” Miko put his one hand on her shoulder.
“Yuck!” Jhing pushed him away but Miko didn't move.
“Don't be jealous.” He kissed her temple.
“Even though your Tatay loves me more, I won't ever replace you in my heart. We can just both become his eldest…" Miko's eyes widened. "That sounds so incest." He laughed.
Jhing shook her head. "You're insane."
The bus started to move as Jhing and Miko kept silent and admired the nature outside the window. By one second, her right hand was on top of her lap—the next, it was held tightly by the hand she felt the most comfortable and on edge-able, if that was even a word.
If not, then she might put it in her vocabulary.
It was just her name for years, but from his voice, it became a beautiful word.
When she looked at Miko, he sheepishly smiled and stole a kiss—lighter than the other night, but the effect was the same, the feelings were the same, she was the same and so was he.
But Jhing won’t let Miko know that.
She can't let his ego explode into the sky.
So Jhing pushed his head away from her making him laugh. Miko was persistent like he always was. He puckered his lips trying to kiss Jhing again, but the latter kept pushing the pervert away. It was hard trying to get angry when all Jhing wanted to do was to smile and laugh and cry for the lightness in her heart.
Then it drizzled outside—droplets of rain blurred the window view.
Jhing was pissed but it disappeared when Miko pointed outside and whispered. “Rainbow.”
And there, she saw it—with all its colors and beauty, visible in her eyes against the rain.
She got too occupied with the view outside that when the bus halted, and their upper body moved forward, she heard something fell.
Jhing unconsciously looked at where the faint sound came from to see what that was.
And her heart stopped before Miko could block her eyes with his hand.
“Y-you didn't see anything!”
Her eyes saw it. Her brain processed the information. And her heart beat faster. And faster. Until she felt Miko picked it up—the simple silver jewelry which could fit around a finger, with a stone shimmering at the center.
When Miko removed his hand away from her eyes, Jhing saw the man's whole being stiffened like a stone. He closed his eyes and breathed while Jhing glanced at his pants. In his pocket.
An engagement ring.
“Fucking…” With a soft and low voice, Miko asked, “Did you see?”
Jhing didn’t know what to say. She can pretend that she didn't see it, and everything will be back to normal— not. Of course, she will be thinking about it over and over and over again. She knew that Miko could tell if she lied and said no. And he will think about this over and over again.
It was a conflict.
A choice has to be made.
So Jhing chose where she was good at—words.
She leaned closer to him and kissed the side of his lips as she smiled and said, “If this is not love, then what is?"
Miko was stunned.
After he recovered, his pair of eyes squinted at Jhing. “Is this a rhetorical question?” Miko asked. “You're confusing me."
He frowned, “When did you learn how to flirt?” and smiled.
“I inherited it from you,” and Jhing, with a smile, pressed her lips to Miko’s and whispered, “Leche.”
Miko laughed and shook his head. There was an obvious red taint on his cheeks. Jhing laughed too and felt embarrassed after. But she didn’t mind when Miko laid his head on her shoulder and kissed her jaw.
“I love you too.”
No one moved. Their hands intertwined and not letting go. Hearts were beating. Souls attached. Everything wasn’t of any significance. Not the drizzle. Nor the moving bus. Or the rainbow. Even the cold air. Maybe their painted smiles were important; because it was written real. And they were their own favorite art.
Him as her stories.
Her as his illustrations.
But what mattered the most: Jhing and Miko.
Him and her.
So at exactly 11:11 with Miko beside her, Jhing started typing the novella continuation on her phone— about the same writer and same stranger that started with an online connection, personal feelings, and a miserable book ending she thought they deserved.
And she was wrong.
The writer couldn’t re-write the first book.
But Jhing can start the writer and stranger’s much-deserved continuation.
If given a chance to share an unforgettable memory,
the writer’s quivering lips will involuntarily tell a time: 23:11.
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