When I first met Charlie at a young writers’ summer conference in Baguio, he and Winston had already been the best of friends. This was not surprising, because both of them came from the same town in Pangasinan and had gone to school together – from elementary to college. Charlie’s mom and Winston’s mom were best friends in college. Charlie and Winston were both first-born. So it was sort of natural they would be close to each other.
Charlie was a poet, Winston a fictionist, and both had been hailed as “the newest stars in the literary firmament,” as a campus review would put it. Both of them belonged to the exclusive Inner Circle, a select group of campus writers in the university. Charlie looked like a young Dylan Thomas (who happened to be his favorite poet): somewhat pouting lips and curly locks tumbling down forehead and nape. He was lean, fair and frail-looking. His eyes were his best features: saucer-shaped and brooding, dark with secret passions and what he would quote as “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower.” Winston was completely different. He was dark and husky, his kinky hair close-cropped, a crystal stud sparkling on his left ear. He was almost a head taller than Charlie. From a distance, they would look like a man and a woman together: a striking pair.
One member of the Inner Circle was an incredibly gorgeous creature by the name of Alda Mortiz. Long-limbed and golden brown, with long dark hair that would look good in a shampoo commercial, she would have made it to the ramp or a beauty contest, except that she was better known in literary circles as the enfant terrible of Philippine literature. She had won the second prize in the Palanca when she was sixteen. I was completely impressed with her at first. But I absolutely hated her when Charlie and I became more than friends.
She had the habit of hovering over Charlie while he was bent over his computer at the Circle (the writers’ hangout, actually a small flat at the Faculty Village), her sinuous body rubbing against his shoulder, probably intentionally. If Charlie looked up, his eyes would rest on the deep crevice between her breasts, for she also loved spaghetti straps and plunging necklines and bending over Charlie. But surprisingly, Charlie did not seem to be bothered by her exquisite body, and he would tease me about being more disturbed by it than he was. And of course, I thought I was terribly, unarguably lucky.
Charlie and I became a twosome after the conference. I did not really write like them, but I enrolled in creative writing classes for my electives and also because I would like to be with Charlie. Oftentimes, I would also hang out at the Circle with Charlie after my classes, sometimes even dozing off in that small enclosure that passed off as the bedroom, sometimes wondering what Alda would do in the deep night when she and Charlie would be rushing their articles for the campus paper. But Charlie would always dismiss such jealous thoughts with a wave of his hand and sealing whatever other fears I might articulate with warm and tender kisses.
Of course, it was also at the Circle that Charlie and I had our “first night” together even before we got married, and that was when the last typhoon came in full force and we were both unable to go home to our respective dorms. And like all first nights, it was the greatest.
Charlie was a gentle lover, but he had none of the awkward moments usually associated with first-timers. Making love with him was like preparing a story, starting with a passionate prologue, ascending into an indescribable climax, and extending into a tender epilogue. No short-times on stolen moments, so in the long run I benefited from it all. I enjoyed it thoroughly. Even when it was supposed to hurt because I was a virgin, what I felt was not an impressive thrust but a gentle pain probing into the depths of my womanhood, completely filling its void, until it was time for him to explode inside me and I was sinking my nails into his buttocks because, dear God, I didn’t want to let him out, I wanted to keep him there. When we fell apart we were both sweating and exhausted, but he turned to me again and showered my face playfully with little kisses. And that was when I asked him about his experiences.
How many women have you done it with Charlie?
He put his arms under his head and looked at the ceiling. You’re the first woman in my life Ginny, he said seriously. You may not believe it, but you are.
No, I don’t believe it, Charlie, but who cares? As long as I love you and I’m the only one in your life right now, nothing matters anymore.
You’re the first woman in my life, Ginny, probably also the last. Please believe me.
Liar! I said laughingly, heaving myself on top of his naked body. Why is it that when you tell me that, you sound so true?
Charlie did not give me any reason to doubt his word nor give me any reason to be jealous of Alda, in spite of what I believed were her amorous overtures to him. If he wasn’t with me he was with Winston, so where would Alda place herself? Charlie was not a mixer, and he also did not live it up with the other members of the Inner Circle. It was this way until we all graduated from the university and Charlie and Winston both worked for the same Asian weekly based in Makati and I found my niche in an NGO. But I don’t know why the thought of Alda kept coming back like a ghost. As if to tease me, she found a job in the building where Charlie and Winston reported.
Charlie and I got married three years after graduation. Winston was the best man, and I sort of felt sorry for him because until now he hadn’t found a girl – or he wasn’t looking for one? He certainly never spoke of it, nor did he seem interested in any one of them, not even the beautiful Alda. And I wished that he would take an interest in Alda, so she would stop flirting with Charlie, even in front of me at the Circle, which we continued to frequent as “honorary members.” It was still like a second home to us and we still kept the duplicate keys to its doors.
The baby came soon after and my happiness was complete. Whenever he had the time, Charlie was always with her, hovering like, well, a mother. He almost didn’t want to give her back to me when she was in his arms, and for a while, I enjoyed the arrangement. Except that now, Charlie seemed to be avoiding me altogether, well not really me but sleeping with me because we didn’t have it for a long time and I was expecting him to desire his wife and not spend all his free time with the baby. But he also bought a new laptop and if wasn’t with the baby, he would be at the loft, concentrating, he would say, on his new book of poetry. The few times he wouldn’t have any excuse I felt that I was forcing myself on him and I felt absolutely degraded, humiliated. I wasn’t looking any worse for having a baby, in fact my friends said I was even looking better, more sensuous, because I gained weight after delivery. But Charlie hadn’t noticed. It was as if he was having his satisfaction elsewhere and he would only come home to write and sleep. And then I thought of Alda. I decided to see Winston and tell him about my problem.
I hardly see him because of our different assignments, but there isn’t any woman, Ginny, that’s the truth. If there had been, I would be the first to know.
But he acts like he has one, Winston. We hardly make love anymore, and from time to time, he doesn’t come home, just to avoid me, I think.
There is no other woman, Ginny, please believe me. Charlie loves you, and you are the only woman in his life. Please believe that.
What about Alda?
Alda doesn’t matter in Charlie’s life.
I went home more perplexed than ever, wondering if Winston was covering up for Charlie, yet wanting to believe his word, because he sounded so true, so sincere.
Our days as husband and wife drifted this way and if Charlie wasn’t attending to our baby he was completely absorbed in his laptop. Sometimes I wished that it would break down or get a really unknown virus or whatever. But whatever I wished wasn’t helping the relationship any, though Charlie continued to be gentle and thoughtful and sweet – and evasive of any intimate relationship. It was as if he just wanted a baby and that was it. But I wanted something more. Ask any young wife.
Then one unforgettable day, I had all the answers to my questions.
That was the Friday my boss asked me to finish a feasibility report for a project and submit it the following Monday. I generally didn’t work weekends – they were mother’s days – but this time I decided to bring the manuscript home. And that was when I decided to use Charlie’s laptop.
Charlie was already snoring in the loft when I came home close to midnight. Not wanting to disturb him, I tiptoed to his study table and brought the laptop down to our bedroom. I was about to open the file when I caught sight of the title of the last document that he probably entered just a few days earlier: Buddy. I knew that “buddy” was the same name they called each other at the Inner Circle. I became curious. Could this be referring to Alda? And so, this was how I came to read his letter to “Buddy,” and stumble upon his little secret. The cheat! First and last woman in his life – the two-timing liar! The letter read in part:
I love Ginny, but you know that I will always love you more. I feel like a fool paraphrasing Poe, but I love you with a love that is more than love. I thought that my marriage would make me what I am, but I did not succeed. And the thought that you are suffering as much as I am makes the situation more unbearable. I can’t lie anymore to Ginny: this is most unfair to her. My kisses, my caresses have always been with you.
If you still feel the same way with me, please meet me on Sunday at the Circle at 3:00 p.m. Please, darling, I can’t go on like this any longer. It is high time…
My eyes blurred, and for a while I wanted to believe that this was only fiction, and this wasn’t happening to me. But I couldn’t deceive myself. There was no way I could finish my report. I returned the laptop to the loft, resolved to catch both of them at the Circle and settle the matter once and for all. I love Charlie and would fight to keep my marriage, but Charlie would have to make a choice: it’s me and the baby, or that slut Alda.
Waiting for Sunday afternoon seemed to take forever. Charlie left in the morning and so he probably thought I would stay home the whole day. When I took the cab to the Circle in the afternoon and found Charlie’s old Laser parked outside, I knew that they were already there. Getting down at the corner, I walked the few meters to the Circle, took out the duplicate key and stealthily circled to the back door. It was open. Charlie could not possibly have seen me getting in, for the windows were all in front. And then, I heard Charlie talking – no, moaning – in the bedroom.
I’ve been waiting for this moment again. God knows. I miss you, oh how I miss you, my love, my darling, my…
I couldn’t wait any longer. I opened the bedroom door, and saw two bodies covered by an Ilocano blanket, locked in a passionate embrace. Charlie was the one on top, and for a while I did not see whose face it was that he was kissing with all the ardor that I did not see him give to me, before or after our marriage. I came to find out for myself the truth, and was prepared to discuss the fate of my marriage in the most civilized manner. But seeing him this way, I wanted to kill him, and kill the one who took him away from me. I wanted to kill Alda, claw at that lovely face of hers, tear her to pieces. Except that it was not Alda.
It was Winston!
The scream caught in my throat, and came out as a barely audible gasp. I was aware of two naked bodies springing out of bed, and my name being called, but I did not care anymore. All the hatred within me dissolved into an indescribable shock and I ran out as fast as I could, away from this nauseating and sickening scene, unable at cry or think clearly. Then the world around me seemed to collapse and turn into one vast darkness overwhelming me. And as my knees gave way, one word kept imploding in my mind over and over again as I began to lose consciousness:
Bitch, bitch, bitch!