You are the Only One

Elmo was not excited to go home.

No, he was excited. And yes, he was also apprehensive.

What would be his reception?

When the airplane touched down, his mind alerted. News about NAIA’s ‘tanim-bala’ had spread all over the world. His luggage was only one and it had been wrapped tightly with tape.

He was a seasoned traveler. He protected himself from the many pitfalls of travel. What he had not known was the mind of a woman. His woman.

Lara was a wife in the whole sense of the word–except marriage. He didn’t ask her to marry him. And he didn’t hear her utter the ‘m’ word either.

Any woman would insist but not Lara. And he alone knew why…

You are the Only One

“Your heart is unobtainable. Even though Lord knows you kept mine.” Sam Smith, ‘I’m Not the Only One’

Elmo stayed in a hotel to freshen up. His house was thirty minutes away but he wanted to be ready before he went home.

“Hello, Jon? Elmo, here. What’s up?” He called his nearest neighbor, about three houses away.

“Elmo! Same as before. How are you?”

“I’m on vacation. I went home for a month. Can we meet tonight?”

“Tonight?” A baby cried in the background. “I’m sorry. We have our second baby and–Can we meet tomorrow night instead? It’s Stella’s day off.”

“Okay. Tomorrow night.” He said goodbye because his friend sounded harassed.

Elmo took a deep breath. Maybe he should face the problem as soon as possible.

In one of the infrequent calls he had with Jon, a delicate topic was discussed. Jon wouldn’t pinpoint, insisting on speaking in riddles.

“You just have to be level-headed, man. No need to be passionate. It’s only money.”

Elmo asked what it was.

“You will know when you come home.”

Suddenly, he wanted to go to his house. He just had a shower. It took ten minutes to check out.

As Elmo got into the taxi, he remembered the day when Lara came into his life.

Lara knocked on his door, carrying a sign in one hand and a big bag in the other hand. She looked thirsty and hungry. She was exhausted.

“I got this sign outside.” It was ‘wanted: housemaid’ but he didn’t put it there.

“I’m sorry. I–”

She was already turning away. Her movements were slow, as though weary of life.

“But I–” he hesitated for a moment before taking a plunge. “I could use some house help.”

Lara gave a tired smile.

Elmo invited her in. “Have a seat.” He offered her water and a sandwich.

She accepted the water. She just eyed the sandwich.

“What are my duties?” She asked after gulping down the water.

He had to think fast. His house was large and old. Some rooms were not used in a long time.

“You will clean the rooms upstairs.”

“And–?” She prompted when he paused for long.

“You will cook and wash dishes. You know how to cook?”

“Yes. I know how to wash clothes, too.” She sounded eager.

“Good. Now, your room will be by the kitchen.”

“I’m staying in?” It seemed she couldn’t believe her ears.

Elmo didn’t know when he decided to have her stay. Maybe because she looked small and vulnerable. His protective instinct went overdrive.

He shrugged because Lara seemed harmless.

Which was the biggest mistake he ever did. Lara was harmful but she didn’t know it. She could be hurtful without even knowing it.

She went to bed that night with no dinner. But when he woke up the next morning, the sandwich was gone.

They fell into a routine that first day. Lara started cleaning upstairs in the morning. In the afternoon, she would collect the used clothes and beddings. In the evenings, she would cook dinner. Elmo didn’t wake up till noon.

He was rushing a project. He could not spare time to talk with Lara. He just knew that she was there and that seemed to give him peace.

Lara’s second week, she was waiting for him to wake up.

“Um, there’s no more detergent. And food.”

It was the second time that he looked at her again.

Her dress still hung on her slight frame but she had little flesh added now. The dark circles around her eyes were gone. The gaunt look on her face was replaced by a haunting sadness.

“C’mon, we’ll go to the supermarket.”

They went home with several bags of detergent and food. He bought something extra like wine and peanuts.

She was quiet as she pushed the cart. She pretended to look at the magazine stand when he paid for them.

They went their separate ways when they got home to do their work.

Again, a week had gone by with the same routine. Elmo started to see the advantages of having a house-help. Dishes mysteriously disappeared from where he left them. Everything was in its place and was sparklingly clean.

The project was winding down. He could take some time off after it was submitted. It was exactly a month.
Elmo remembered that it was Lara’s payday. He went upstairs. He investigated the rooms. All doors were opened. The beddings and curtains were pulled down.

“Lara?”

“I’m here.” The voice was muffled.

He followed where the sounds were coming from, at the far end of the corridor. She was carrying a bundle of linens, taller than her.

“Let me help.” He lifted the folded linen from her arms. She was left with pillow cases hanging on one arm.

“Do you need me for something?” She asked when they delivered the linen in the washroom downstairs.

Elmo looked at her when she started talking.

Lara was wearing a dress, but it looked different on her.

No, she looked different.

She had a shapely body. Her skin was clear. With regular rest and food, her health had returned.

Her cheeks bloomed and her eyes sparkled. Her lips were full and firm.

She was a beauty. What was she doing here?

Maybe it was time for an interview. It was better late than never.

“Yes. We’ll have a chit-chat. And here’s your pay envelope.” He pulled a chair for her. He went to the refrigerator and got themselves a bottle each of water.

Lara did not touch the envelope. She just stared at it.

“I still don’t know your full name.”

She answered distractedly. “I am Lara Cruz.” She looked at him at last. “You don’t have to pay me. You let me stay and you give me food.”

It was his turn to feel flabbergasted. “Where are you from?”

“I lived in the mountains. In Ifugao province. I arrived here in Manila about two months ago.”

He did a quick calculation. “Where did you stay before coming here?” He was more than curious.

“I stayed in a room somewhere in Quiapo. I had some money but it was stolen.” Her eyes went back to the envelope once again. “I roamed around looking for work but my rent had run out without my finding one.”

Without food and clean drinking water, it was a wonder she survived.

Elmo was not born rich, but his elderly parents had sent him to college and left this old house to him when they died. He lived comfortably. He could work anywhere.

“Now you found work. Accept the money,” he said gruffly.

She looked at him again, as though waiting for something.

He cocked his head and raised his eyebrows. “You can stay for as long as you want. The work here is endless.”

“Thank you.” Her left hand reached for the envelope timidly.

He continued his interview. He asked her age, twenty three years old, which was surprising because she looked younger. At first glance, she looked eighteen, partly due to her ponytail, and partly due to her size.

He was twenty seven. But she was still too young.

Her parents were both dead, too. An only child like him, it seemed.

He was wont to ask her about a boyfriend but something prevented him. It was too private. He wouldn’t want it to be asked during a work interview.

“Okay. That’s all. Hope you will like working here.” He offered his hand for a shake hands.

“I will.”

Time stood still when their palms touched. There was a feeling of softness and calluses. When he looked down, her right hand had many wounds.

“What happened to your hand?”

“Nothing.” She tried pulling her hand from his clasp but he wouldn’t let go.

“Let me treat them.” He took the first aid kit from the kitchen cabinet. He applied antiseptic to the wounds before putting band aid. It seemed the very strong detergent was the culprit.

“Why you didn’t tell me about this?”

“They will heal.” She started to stand up. “Excuse me,” she said when he didn’t move away.

“Where are you going?”

“To the washroom. The bed linen must be soaked.”

“No. You can’t wet those hands. It’s your day off. Take a rest.”

Elmo was jolted when the taxi stopped in front of the house. He paid the fare.

He breathed deeply. He had stayed away for a year. A year of hell. He was like an automaton. Only work saved him from going crazy.

Now. Now, he would hear the truth from her.

Now… he would ask her to leave if…

His knuckle just stopped from knocking on his front door. This was his house.

He used the key. The door opened with a squeak. The hinges needed oil, he thought absently.

He paused, absorbing the silence. It was not empty. Lara was here.

But he didn’t call her. He took the stairs. Suddenly, he missed her. He wanted to hold her in his arms.

‘Oh God, I need her!’

But their room was empty. He opened the closet. Only his clothes hung there.

Elmo felt like the earth opened up and swallowed him. His strength seeped from him, folding his knees.

‘She’s gone.’

Like an old man, he walked to the bed and sat down heavily.

Their love affair started casually.

Elmo bought a large washing machine. He helped her wash the big beddings. He aired the mattress outside while Lara dusted around the bedrooms.

They had breakfast, lunch and dinner together. He found himself getting addicted to her brief but sweet smiles.

He knew he was falling in love but couldn’t help himself. His hand would sketch her while doing mundane things like cooking or sweeping the floor.

Another month passed them by. It was Lara’s payday again.

“You want to go shopping?” Elmo wanted to ask her for a date but it seemed inappropriate.

“Yes. I’d like to go to the church, too.” Lara was in a pensive mood. She seemed far away.

He drove to the nearby church and waited for her at the back. She prayed for a long time.

Elmo didn’t mind waiting for this enigmatic woman.

Lara was startled when she saw him.

“I didn’t expect you–uh, were you waiting for me?”

“I prayed, too.” He asked the Lord how to win her heart. “Shall we go?”

“Yes.” And she smiled.

He was stupefied for the smile had a different quality. It sent warmth around his heart.

They didn’t go shopping. They ate in a fastfood restaurant and watched a movie. He couldn’t remember what it was because they were busily kissing each other.

That night Lara became his. Or rather, he became hers.

Elmo was crazy about her. He was jealous of men looking at her.

Lara had been more youthful and more beautiful when they became lovers.

He changed her hairstyle because he thought the shorter length would add years to her age, but the shoulder length just enhanced her beauty.

He tried to choose her clothes but she would not let him. He was glad she preferred dresses and skirts. She preferred a duster to a pair of shorts.

He was so insecure because he was not sure if gratitude drove her to his arms. She never said anything about her feelings for him.

Words were not important to him. But with Lara, he needed to hear she loved him.

Action spoke louder in his past relationships. He brought gifts. He marked important dates so he could be with them.

But Lara was an enigma. She didn’t spoke of her birthday. She forgot their month-sary.

The only change he noticed was her frequent smiles and her chatter. She would chat about the news in the television or what was happening in the neighborhood, but never about herself.

Elmo was very thirsty about information but Lara would rather make love than talking about herself. And he was easily distracted.

Then one night, she dreamed. They were sharing his room. She was on his bed, and yet she was dreaming of someone else.

On hindsight, he didn’t know how he was sure she was not dreaming about him. At that time, he knew.

“I love you, baby…” Lara murmured softly.

Elmo could not breathe. She never called him anything but by his name.

His insecurity had doubled. For weeks, he observed her movements.

She had been out for more than an hour going to the nearby store.

She was also going to church by herself. It was hours before she came back.

And she had been acting guilty. She would cook his favorite dish. She would be attentive during dinner.

He had been hurting but he had no voice to speak out what he felt.

How could he confront a woman who was having an affair, aside from having an affair with him?

“Elmo, can you spare a minute? I’d like to talk to you.” She sounded strained. Her hands were gripping one another.

“Sorry. I have a rush project. Can’t it wait another time?”

They had not shared a bed since. He took to sleeping in a sofa-bed located in his office. He would cross the adjoining door when she was asleep.

He would watch her sleep, waiting for her to dream again.

That night, she dreamed again.

“Baby, don’t worry… I’ll never leave you…”

She was calling her lover, ‘baby’!

Elmo wanted to howl his pain. He went back to his office. His hands went to his head. It felt like a bomb ready to explode.

He spent that night staring at the ceiling, thinking nothing. Morning came and went. He didn’t eat breakfast even when she knocked.

“Elmo, here’s your breakfast,” her voice called out.

He ignored her. Should he finish things between them?

Could he imagine life without her in it?

By mid-afternoon, he had decided. He un-locked his office and invited her in.

“Lara, I’ll work in Dubai for one year. Here’s the pin number to my ATM and the keys to the house.” He spoke fast because he did not want her questions.

“But…” Lara wept quietly as he packed his things. She watched him, her eyes trying to catch his.

“Elmo, I’ll write to you. Please give me your address.” She sounded desperate.

He pretended not to hear her. “Goodbye, Lara.”

Now, how could he expect her to wait for him? He had cut her from his life. He had deleted all his social profiles, never visiting his friends’. He lived only for work.

No, except the money. He had regularly sent her a large amount every month. Hoping she would stay attracted to him for his money.

“Elmo?”

He could not believe his ears. He lifted his bowed head slowly.

Lara was standing at the doorway. Her feet were bare. She looked disheveled.

“I thought I heard a noise… Have you eaten?” She said awkwardly. “I had an egg earlier but I can scramble one for you.”

She was gone before he could utter a word. He followed her to the kitchen slowly.

She had done something to her hair. It was neater with a ponytail. Her dress was changed into a skirt and blouse.

“Would you like rice? I don’t have bread. Softdrinks? Oh, wait, there’s a bottle of wine here.” She was babbling. Her hands were shaking.

His shock was wearing off. He missed her. ‘God, I missed her like crazy!’

“Lara.”

She stopped whisking the egg. She looked at him, with eyes starting to cry.

“Come here.” He opened his arms, but he met her halfway.

They held each other for a long time. He was contented to hold her, as she was crying her eyes out.

When she let him cup her face and looked at her, she had a red nose and puffed lips. Her red-rimmed eyes stared at him, accusing and bruised at the same time.

“You left me.” She stated a fact.

“I left because I love you.” There, it was not hard to tell her his feelings.

“You… love me?” She was disbelieving. “Then why did you leave?”

Elmo decided to open the topic of ‘baby’ for another day. For now, their reunion was as satisfying as he could wish for. Lara missed him, too.

“Work,” he answered simply. “I thought you left me.”

“Oh.” Lara pushed him to walk towards the door of her old room. She hesitated. She faced him, her expression anxious.

“Elmo…” She took a deep breath. “I have something to tell you…”

Elmo opened his mouth then closed it again. He would let her speak.

“First, I’d like to tell you this—I love you. I love you so much I’ll go crazy if not for…” She closed her eyes. “If not for Baby Elmer, I’ll go crazy with longing for you.” Her statement winded down to whisper.

“Baby Elmer…?”

Lara opened her eyes again. “We have a baby boy. He was born six months ago.”

‘I love you, baby… I’ll never leave you.’ Those words mocked him.

Elmo did not think twice. He kneeled before her and asked for forgiveness.

“Please, forgive my lack of trust in you. I thought you’re having an affair,” he said humbly.

“Oh, Elmo!” Lara kneeled, too. “I had a boyfriend, a childhood sweetheart. He died in the typhoon flood, together with his and my parents. I was left all alone. Then you came into my life. You left me alone after giving me a job. You let me heal, get back on my feet. I started feeling again. I’m attracted to you because you’re matured and responsible, and thoughtful. I just had cold feet when I fell pregnant. I don’t want to force you to marry me.”

There was silence after Lara’s speech. Elmo felt the wetness of his cheeks because he couldn’t help crying. He was the one who hurt the one he loved. He left her when she needed him.

“I’m sorry, Lara! I shouldn’t let my insecurities rule over me. I won’t ever leave you. I will always love you!”

Lara embraced him and led him to stand up. “I’m here to stay. Even when I lose hope, I knew you would return. Oh, Elmo, I love you!”

They kissed each other’s wet cheeks, and then their lips met. It was sweetest kiss.

A baby’s cry pierced the thickening silence.

“It’s feeding time. Come, see our baby.” Lara went to her old room.

Elmo looked around. The room was small. It got smaller when the antique crib was squeezed in a corner. He saw her lift the sleepy baby to her arms and breast-fed him.

After Baby Elmer was burped, she laid him back again.

“He looks like you,” she whispered tenderly.

“Why did you go back to this room? Our room’s larger.” Elmo asked when they were outside again.

Lara was uncomfortable. “I am able to hear him when I am working.”

His brow knitted. “What work?”

“Well, I accept clothes. I wash and dry them, then collect a fee.”

“What about the money I sent you every month?” He guessed she didn’t touch it.

“I couldn’t spend your money. You let me stay here and that’s more than enough,” she explained in a strained voice.

“Oh, Lara!” Elmo held her in his arms tightly. He had never known a woman like her. “My Lara! Forgive me, darling. I love you.” He kissed her deeply.

They were both breathing fast after the kiss.

“Will you marry this insecure and crazy man?”

“Yes. Yes. Yes!” Lara replied enthusiastically. “I love you, my sweetheart.”

“Darling Lara, if you repeat it often enough, I will believe it!” he said lovingly.

“We both suppressed our feelings before,” she agreed.

“But not anymore. With words and actions, we love each other,” he vowed.

“And our baby.”

At her insistence, they were married in a civil registrar. Their baby had a simple baptismal ceremony.

The second storey of the house was turned to four-flat rooms for rent. The rents would go to a savings account for the baby’s college education.

It was three months after because they waited for the house to be ready. They also renovated the downstairs living area, removing the stairs connecting the upstairs.

Elmo said yes to all three decisions but he had questions.

“Why the civil wedding? Why the simple ceremony? And why do we have to rent out?”

“We don’t need a church wedding. Baby Elmer will not know what we are celebrating. Look at him, sleeping after the priest wet his head. And lastly, the house is so large. We’re comfortable downstairs.” Lara swept her hand around the living room. “We need to be thrifty, sweetheart.”

“It’s okay, darling. But we don’t need to be frugal.”

“Don’t worry. I won’t go over the rails. Being thrifty is second nature to me.”

“That’s why I love you more.” Elmo kissed the tip of her nose. He remembered the huge accumulated amount in the bank. Jon was wrong.

Lara sat down on his lap. His arms automatically went around her.

“Besides, we will be four, seven months from now.”

It was a moment before he could react. “You’re pregnant?”

“Hope you’ll like a little girl this time.”

“A girl or a boy again is not the issue. I’ll have the chance to make up to you during your pregnancy. Just to make sure you’re safe and healthy.”

“I’m blessed to have you.”

Elmo smiled. “Same here, my Lara.”

Inspired by the song, ” I’m Not The Only One” (Sam Smith).

Lyrics:

I’m Not The Only One (Sam Smith)”

You and me, we made a vow
For better or for worse
I can’t believe you let me down
But the proof’s in the way it hurts

For months on end I’ve had my doubts
Denying every tear
I wish this would be over now
But I know that I still need you here

[Chorus:]
You say I’m crazy
‘Cause you don’t think I know what you’ve done
But when you call me baby
I know I’m not the only one

You’ve been so unavailable
Now sadly I know why
Your heart is unobtainable
Even though Lord knows you kept mine

[Chorus:]
You say I’m crazy
‘Cause you don’t think I know what you’ve done
But when you call me baby
I know I’m not the only one

I have loved you for many years
Maybe I am just not enough
You’ve made me realize my deepest fear
By lying and tearing us up

[Chorus x2:]
You say I’m crazy
‘Cause you don’t think I know what you’ve done
But when you call me baby
I know I’m not the only one

I know I’m not the only one
I know I’m not the only one
And I know
And I know
And I know
And I know
And I know
And I know, no
I know I’m not the only one

(Courtesy: azlyrics.com)

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