Ana opened the door a crack and surveyed the room. It seemed empty. She emerged from the bathroom clutching at a large fluffy white robe that engulfed her from head to toe.
She inspected a pair of pajamas on the bed that Ken had probably laid them out for her. They were overly large for her frame, but they were clean and dry. And after all, what choice did she have, Ana thought as she trotted back to the bathroom with the pajamas in tow. It wasn’t as if she had anything more suitable to wear — her dress had been drenched in the sudden downpour.
Although the night air had been balmy, she and Ken had stood in the rain far too long and Ana had been chilled to the bone when they got to his apartment. When Ana had started sneezing, Ken had ordered her into the shower, while he grumbled about her cavalier attitude towards her health. Duh. As if he hadn’t been sopping wet himself. She would have protested his high-handedness — after all, no one appreciated being dictated to like a child — but she had been too cold.
She looked at her reflection in the large mirror that hung above the sink as she buttoned the pajama top up. Her face was scrubbed clean of makeup and her hair clung to her scalp in riotous wet ringlets.
This had been a really weird night.
Ana felt as if she had gone through a whole range of emotions in the span of a couple of hours; First she had been excited at the prospect of seeing Ken again, then Takashi had brought her down to earth by reminding her that it was all a “business arrangement.” Then instead of enjoying the concert, she had spent the whole time fuming, partly because of what that darned woman in Ken’s dressing room had insinuated, but mostly because Ken had been a pig. She was further infuriated at the party when that woman had tried her best to drape herself over Ken. And the damned man hadn’t even minded. Ana had had a brief respite at the park with Hide — before he terrified her with his amorous advances, that is. She had been relieved when Ken had stopped Hide, but she was incensed at his assumption that she couldn’t have handled the situation.
Then there had been that kiss.
Ana wasn’t the type who swore often, but it seemed fitting. Damn. That kiss had been something else.
She closed her eyes and shook her head. No, no, no. Hindi ako dapat kiligin, hindi ako dapat kiligin, she repeated in her head as she donned the clothes.
When Ana finally emerged, Ken, who was in the kitchen, offered her hot tea. In companionable silence, they both lounged in the dining room, sipping their tea.
Ken looked up, “For what?”
“For rescuing me,” Ana couldn’t quite meet his gaze, “Not that I couldn’t have handled it myself,” she mumbled. But she was grateful anyway.
She looked up to see Ken smiling at her across the table. She smiled back.
“It wasn’t a problem, you’re my girlfriend, remember?”
“Pretend girlfriend,” she corrected.
“Right, so I’m pretending to be your boyfriend.”
“Honto ni?” Ana said as she regarded Ken in disbelief, “Then what were you doing with that woman?”
“That was a mistake … a misunderstanding really,” Ken grimaced. “She wasn’t … we weren’t …”
“Well, if you weren’t what the hell was she doing semi-naked in your dressing room?”
“She was what?”
“When I went to your dressing room in answer to your summons, I found her there,” Ana told him, “As if she had a right to be there.”
“Nan de nan de, are you jealous?”
“Of course not!”
“Usooo! Not even a little?”
“Oh, I’m just pretending to be jealous for your benefit,” Ana told him airily, “After all, for someone who’s pretending to be my boyfriend, I haven’t seen much of you in the past weeks.”
“Gomen, I was busy …” Ken prevaricated.
“Oh yes, too busy for me, but not too busy for that … that bimbo!”
So much for companionable silence.
“Well, you were busy too,” Ken countered heatedly.
Yeah, Ana thought, busy checking my phone every other minute to check if you've called.
“I mean,” Ken continued, “you couldn't have noticed my absence much, not with Dan around.”
“Eeee?! What do you mean?” she asked, crossing her arms over her chest.
“Well, I assumed that since you’ve been holding hands and playing lovey-dovey with him, you’d have been too preoccupied to miss me.”
“Holding hands? With Dan?” Ana stared at him incredulously, “Have you had too much to drink?”
“I saw you Ana.”
“Saw me where?” Ana wanted to start pulling her hair out, this conversation was insane!
Ken didn't like where the conversation was headed, but he went on, “I saw you and Dan having dinner one night, you seemed to be having too much fun so I didn't interrupt.”
“Huh? When was this?”
“A couple of weeks ago …” Ken stood up and raked his hands through his hair.
Suddenly, Ana remembered what Ken saw. “It’s not what it seemed,” she told him.
“It’s really nothing,” he said, trying to brush the whole thing off, “I dropped by to see if you wanted to have dinner, but you were busy and so I took off.”
“No, Ken, let me explain,” Ana stood up and walked over to him, “Dan and I did have dinner together that night, and he did clasp my hand, but it wasn't anything romantic. He was simply trying to convince me to… to…” she suddenly broke off, turned away and cleared her throat,
“Dan has invited me to join him in Texas; he’s been offered a job. He’s leaving in a couple of months and he wants to continue our research there.”
Ken felt something icy grip his heart, “And will you go?”
“I ... I’m not sure,” Ana answered, “The offer is really good, and the research is right in my line, but … but there’s still a lot to do over here and I …” she cleared her throat again, “I haven’t really decided.”
Ken hadn’t realized he had been holding his breath. He let it out slowly.
Nothing was definite, he told himself. She wasn't going anywhere.
It was then that Ken came to a realization: somehow during all the weeks and months of plotting, scheming, and pretending, it had happened. He had finally met someone who was essential to his existence. He had found someone who made him happy. He had found someone who didn't cower from him. He had found an equal.
After all this time, after years of trying to avoid it, he had finally fallen in love.
She can’t go. He wouldn't let her.
“You have to stay,” he found himself telling her.
“Why?” She turned to face him. “There’s really nothing that’s holding me here…”
“There’s your work … your friends …” he argued.
She smiled sadly, “I could still have those in Texas.”
“There’s me,” Ken said, his voice barely a whisper.
Ana stared at him in shocked silence for what seemed an eternity. Then she laughed, it sounded
hollow, even to her own ears. “That’s taking this pretense too far, isn’t it?”
Ken’s heart sank, but his acting skills rose to the fore, “We could always make the relationship for real you know,” he suggested flippantly, smiling at her.
This time Ana laughed in earnest. “You are impossible,” she told him. But a little part of her heart crumbled. Ken wasn't serious. He couldn't be serious. Why had he even suggested it?
Because he wasn’t falling for her … or was he?
“Don’t worry, I’ll still be here a while longer,” she said, turning away from him. She gathered their cups, and put them in the sink. “There’s still time for you to find someone suitable to replace me. Just not that bimbo,” she warned, turning back to wag a finger at him, “you could do way better.” She sighed, “Yes, there’s still time.”
“Indeed there is,” Ken agreed. There’s still time to make you fall in love with me, he thought. He suddenly smiled and walked over to her, “So what do you want to do? Do you want to turn in or shall we do something else?”
“Yes. We could watch a movie, sing karaoke, or chat,” he answered, “Or if you like, we could make out on the couch like teenagers,” he added mischievously. Ana gave him an exasperated look and he started laughing.
“I’m glad I manage to amuse you,” she said, drying her hands, “Now, what about watching one of your movies?”
“Eeee? Honto ni? You want to watch my movies?” he asked delightedly.
She smiled, “Sure, you’re my pretend boyfriend, I should know more about your work. And I bet,” she added with a sly sideways look at him, “That you’re dying to show them off to me”
“How’d you guess?”
They settled themselves on the sofa, and Ken brought out some DVDs for Ana to select from.
She picked a romantic comedy, Ima Anata ni, one of Ken’s earlier movies. Halfway through the movie though, Ken realized that Ana was more tired than she had let on, after she fell asleep at the other end of the sofa. Amused that the movie had put her to sleep, he tried to wake her. When she mumbled groggily, he smiled, scooped her up, and carried her into his room. She’d be more comfortable there, he thought. Although there was another bedroom, which he kept for the use of his sister when she was in town, he had been using it as a storage room, and it was pretty messy.
He laid Ana on the bed and sat down beside her, staring down at her prone form. He liked seeing her here, in his bed, he thought possessively. In sleep, Ana had shed her bossy mantle. She looked soft and biddable. And sexy, Ken gulped as he noticed the top button of her pajamas had come undone. Unaware of the direction of his thoughts, Ana let out an inelegant little snort and turned on her side. Ken grinned as he put his feet up and lay next to her. He smiled and savored the moment; I’ll just watch her for a few minutes, he thought as he stifled a yawn. Just a few more minutes, then I’ll transfer to the sofa, he thought as he slowly drifted to sleep.
In the middle of the night, Ana awoke to find an unfamiliar arm around her waist. She turned sleepily and realized that Ken had fallen asleep beside her. Groggily, she made an attempt to disengage herself, but even in his sleep, Ken tightened his embrace. She looked at him as he slept peacefully beside her and decided to let him be. After all, she thought as she snuggled even deeper into his arms, it was just for tonight and no one else was here. Sleeping with Ken was something she could easily get used to, Ana thought as she drifted off to sleep.
Read Chapter 25!