Like Nobody's Watching: Chapter One
Once, during a press launch for WriteNow’s new line of ballpoint pens, Pio Alvez was asked, “If you were to write an autobiography, what would you call it and why?”
The actor and brand ambassador replied, “I Wasn’t Thinking Straight: The Pio Alvez Story.”
He didn’t mind that he gave the press people a good laugh, but he wasn’t trying to be funny. Because if Pio were to be completely honest about one thing, it’s that he had a knack for making decisions without thinking them through.
Case in point: Pretending to be a woman’s boyfriend minutes after seeing her for the first time.
Smashed drunk he wasn’t, but he was tipsy on account of a few beers he’d had at the birthday salubong his friends threw him at Carbon Bar. That was where he was—seated on the pavement fronting the bar, legs stretched out carelessly in front of him, nursing a half-consumed bottle of Stella Artois while checking his phone for birthday messages—when the woman passed him by, wobbling in her high-heeled shoes.
She was headed in the direction of the taxi stand.
Even amid the cacophony of sounds seeping into his consciousness, Pio heard malice in the voices of the two men who tailed her. The taller of the two wolf-whistled at the woman and further confirmed his suspicions.
It should have been easy to flag a cab at three in the morning, but it seemed this part of Ortigas had a scarcity of them. And because this woman’s escape plan didn’t look like it was going to work, Pio decided he could be her escape instead.
Leaving his beer bottle on the pavement, he rounded the other side of the taxi bay, eyes fixed on the two wolves approaching their prey. Punching the lights out of a groper got him in trouble with the media the last time, so the next best thing was…
“Babe!” he called out, jogging toward the woman. “Babe!”
Dumbfounded, the two men stopped in their tracks and stared at him. The woman spun on her heel and did the same. In three hurried strides, Pio closed the distance between them and reached for her hand. “You weren’t answering your phone, babe,” he said, playing to his audience of two. “Didn’t I tell you I’d pick you up?”
This close and under the light of the street lamp, he noticed an ugly streak of mascara running down her left cheek. Seeing her puffy eyes staring back at him in confusion caused his throat to tighten. Avoiding her eyes, Pio’s gaze fell on parted lips that trembled, unable to make a sound.
“Look, I’m sorry.” He gave her hand a gentle squeeze, wishing so hard she would play along, just for a little while. “I was wrong. I shouldn’t have said what I said. Let’s go home. Please?”
Please. Nod. Just a nod is enough.
The lone tear that rolled down her cheek as she nodded put a lump in Pio’s throat. He looked away, the perfect opportunity to glower at the predators who backed off like dogs with tails between their legs.
It took Pio a few seconds to realize he was still holding on to her. “I’m sorry,” he blurted out, fingers relaxing around her wrist. “I saw them following you and I thought maybe you needed—”
“I did,” were the first words that came out of her lips. He barely heard it. “T-thanks.”
The red wrap dress that fell a little above her knee hugged her tiny frame in all the right places. Even in her high-heeled shoes, Pio was almost a head taller, and her smallness made it easy for him to study her face under this light. Drenched cheeks and messed up mascara aside, he thought her beautiful the way 1950s Hollywood actresses were beautiful. Dark tresses cascaded in beautiful waves, framing her face, reminding him of the Sophia Loren portrait his mother owned back in the day. The beauty mark above her upper lip was a distraction, one he had to stop staring at, and now, please.
“Are you going to be okay?”
As another tear fell down her cheek, Pio fought the urge to look away. Very few things fazed Pio Alvez, but at the top of that shortlist was a woman’s tears.
“I don’t know,” she sobbed.
“Did you have a lot to drink?”
She nodded and buried her face in her hands, as though embarrassed to have brought this upon herself because of her carelessness.
“Let’s get you sobered up first.” He offered and gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze. “Then we can find you a cab so you can go home.”
. . . . .
And Audrey was her name.
She now sat on the passenger side of Pio’s black Ecosport, a box of Kleenex balanced on her lap, and a cup of black coffee settled between her hands. Gone were the unsightly streaks of black mascara on her face, but the waterworks were still on.
When he asked her if she wanted to “talk about it,” Pio expected a curt reply, a rejection, something along the lines of “No, it’s okay. I’ll be fine.” But the universe said “Not today,” and for the past half-hour, he listened to Audrey’s disjointed stories and played connect-the-dots with them.
His starting point was a bad breakup.
Two months ago, Audrey’s boyfriend put an end to their on-again/off-again relationship. They lasted ten years, until the guy (henceforth known as “The Douche of Makati”) decided she wasn’t “there for him” enough and dumped her.
Unsurprising plot twist: The Douche was already seeing someone else behind her back. Someone younger, more spontaneous, and who “looked like she leapt out of a magazine centerfold.”
“More like someone who’s always at his beck and call,” she added bitterly and blew her nose into a tissue. She chucked it into an empty McDonald’s paper bag nestled in the car console between them.
“I’m sorry,” she squeaked. “I just don’t have anyone else to vent out to.”
Perhaps a look of incredulity appeared on his face, because Audrey seemed to find the need to explain herself.
“We went to college together and have the same circle of friends. Some of them think I ‘had it coming’ because I wasn’t good to him. I don’t know what he’s told them what they’ve observed, but I felt so betrayed hearing them say that.
“And I’ve been avoiding my family since the breakup. How could I tell them without breaking their heart? My parents treated him like their own son, and my siblings had shown him nothing but love and respect. If I told them everything, I wouldn’t put it past our bunso to punch my ex in the face.”
He deserves it, Pio mused, tamping the sentiment down so it doesn’t escape him. Sitting here and listening to Audrey didn’t necessarily mean he was entitled to an opinion, did it?
Still, her story drew in a rush of familiar, unwanted memories. He almost wanted to laugh. He had stepped out of his own birthday party because the crowd felt suffocating, only to walk into a situation that made it difficult for him to breathe.
“Anyway—I don’t think I should be keeping you any longer.”
“Thank you for listening. And I’m really sorry to have bothered you.”
“Don’t worry about it, Audrey.” The way her name rolled off his tongue felt so natural all of a sudden, like he’d been uttering it all his life. Like he was meant to.
When Audrey placed the box of Kleenex on the dashboard and prepared to leave, disquiet slithered its way up Pio’s heart. Treacherous, this feeling. Faint and inexplicable, but there.
He cleared his throat, an attempt to ignore the unwelcome guest. “Are you feeling better?”
“Not exactly. But I think I can manage.”
“I hope you forget about all this tomorrow,” she mumbled, fumbling for the door lock. It seemed like the alcohol in her system had finally worn off, replacing her brazenness with embarrassment. “We won’t be seeing each other again, anyway. And there are better things to think of.”
“I don’t know. Bacon. Music. Puppies? Whatever works.”
Pio laughed quietly, the first time since meeting her. “Those do sound better.”
The bag of used tissues made a crisp, crunching sound when Audrey grabbed it on her way out of the car. She ducked her head back in a second later, lips parted as though trying to come up with something to say.
“Has anyone ever told you you’re a dead ringer for that actor, Pio Alvez?”
“I...do get that a lot, yes,” he replied, laughter springing up his throat. He had introduced himself to her earlier, but the information probably went in one ear and out the other.
“Well. Congratulations on your face.”
“Thanks,” Pio said, amused. “Hey, uh—be happy.”
He allowed himself a moment to admire her face one last time, convinced she would look even more radiant if she wore a bright, genuine smile.
“Be happy,” he repeated. “It’ll be the best revenge.”