After I fed the hogs their lunch, I went to the pavilion, and I saw my colleagues gathering there, surrounding someone and chattering. I was curious, so I went there.
“What’s up?” I asked casually.
“There’s a new employee,” one of my colleagues replied. I cocked a brow.
We haven’t had new employee for years. It’s quite strange to receive one. All of the employees were excited, so they asked a lot of things.
Then I got into the crowd and saw him.
He was young, perhaps on the early twenties. Or maybe younger. He wore a hat to protect his fair skin from the glare of the sun.
“Good day, Senior,” he said, slightly bowing. I noticed the British accent in his voice. He looked up to me, gazing right into my eyes with his big, blue eyes. “My name is Ehren. Please help me out.”
I worked in a nature reserve called “Gunung Tangkoko Batuangus”, located in Bitung city, one of major cities in North Sulawesi, Indonesia. The nature reserve was about 8.500 hectare wide, protecting various endemic flora and fauna existing only in North Sulawesi, such as Tarsius spectrum, world’s smallest primate, anoa the miniature buffalo, Sulawesi black monkey, and so on.
Actually I didn’t really work there. My father’s friend, Mr. Lawrence, built an observation centre near the nature reserve, there he studied a lot about the endemic creatures, filming them and writing about them. When I graduated from university about five years ago, I visited Bitung city for holiday. I got attracted easily to the unique animals, and quickly decided to work here. Too bad they didn’t accept foreign workers. Luckily there was Mr. Lawrence offering a job at his place. I was also allowed to enter the nature reserve freely. I could even help out. So, I left Seattle and headed for Indonesia. There were some foreign workers working for him too, so I was not alone.
Talking about Mr. Lawrence, I found out immediately that Ehren was his son.
He was spending his summer holiday, so he would be here for a few months.
“Why did you choose to work here?” I asked him. “Is it because your dad is here?”
“No, when I was a child I visited this place once. The various animals I have never seen before fascinated me really much. It has become a dream of mine to work here when I grew up. Now that I have the chance, I won’t waste it,” he replied.
“Fine,” I smiled. “Welcome to North Sulawesi, the land of smiling people. Enjoy your stay here in Gunung Tangkoko Batuangus, make sure to make this moment a precious one.”
“Sounds pretty much like the banners in airport,” Ehren chuckled a little. “By the way, may I know your name?”
“It’s Luc,” I answered quickly. “So, what would you like to do first, Ehren?”
“I think it would be great for me to look around first. It has been more than fifteen years since my last visit,” he casted a glance to the Duasudara Mountain. “And since the other guys have gone, can you accompany me, Senior Luc?”
“Yeah, let’s borrow a jeep from your dad first,” I suggested, then added, “Please don’t use the ‘Senior’ thing. Just call me Luc. Everyone else calls me that way.”
“Okay, Luc,” he repeated, giggling a little. It was a new sound to my ears, hearing my very short name being pronounced by a British tongue. Without saying anything else, I headed to Mr. Lawrence’s house—which was also Ehren’s house at the time because he would be staying there—and got into a tour jeep with Ehren at my heels.
Ehren just won’t stop talking. He talked about his university, his sweet sixteen birthday celebration, and everything he told was for sure, unimportant for me.
“Oh, Luc, what is that?” he pointed at a group of babyroussa. A man was feeding them with wild leaves. “They look like hogs, but their teeth are long, like saber-toothed tigers!”
“They are called—hey wait! Where are you going?” I yelled when Ehren suddenly opened the door and jumped out of the jeep.
“Mister!” He ran eagerly toward the man who was feeding the babyroussas, with me following behind him. The man turned to face him. “What are these animals called?”
The man cocked a brow, he was a native North Sulawesi citizen and perhaps didn’t understand English. But Ehren thought he just didn’t listen, so he repeated his question.
“Dia da tanya binatang apa itu depe nama1,” I said to the man. The man nodded eagerly and explained to us about the endemic hogs with Manado language, and I translated to Ehren in English.
“Awesome!” Ehren exclaimed. “I have never seen these saber-toothed hogs before!”
He walked briefly toward one of the hogs. It flinched at his presence.
“Ehren, don’t go near the babyroussas! They are very aggressive. Come back here at once,” I commanded. Ehren ignored me. The babyroussas started to squeal and growl. “Ehren, come back!”
“You’re such a chicken!” he protested. I objected immediately at his choice of words. “They are not dangerous. See?”
He extended his hand and touched a babyroussa’s head. The hog flinched at first, but then it calmed down under Ehren’s touch. He started to rub its head, stroked its long teeth, and stroked under its chin, fascinated by the beauty of a rare animal he hadn’t seen before. Soon the other hogs gathered around him, sniffing his clothes and squealing lightly. Ehren let out a small chuckle before stroking the other babyroussas as well.
The Manado man and I stood there dumbfounded.
“Baru kali ini kita lia tu babi nda ba serang orang2,” he said with awe. I myself couldn’t take my gaze off of Ehren, who looked so happy among those hogs.
“Kita le3,” I replied shortly. Ehren’s laughter rang through my ears as he ran away from the babyroussas.
“Come on, Luc,” he said between his pants as he approached me. His face was red from the heat and his chest was rising and sinking along with his short breaths. “Let’s go see more.”
“De’, kiapa tu babi-babi nda ba serang pa ngana4?” The man asked Ehren. He turned to me, asking for translation.
“Well, I don’t know. When I saw them, I knew that they won’t attack. Even though you guys said that they were aggressive, but I didn’t care. I wanted to touch them. They are unique, I have never seen them before, and I was curious. In fact they were really playful, I like them even though they smell bad,” Ehren answered with an explanation. I turned to the man and translated it for him. He said that he was impressed of Ehren’s natural talent to be comfortable around animals, and that Ehren should work here too.
“Terima kasih,” Ehren replied. It was ‘thank you’ in Indonesian. Perhaps the only Indonesian word he knows. We said goodbye to the man and headed for our jeep again.
“That was dangerous, Ehren,” I scolded him after he got into the jeep. “What if the hogs attack you? You were just lucky that time. Please don’t do that again, not all animals are like that. This is a nature reserve for wildlife, the animals are not tamed!”
“But they didn’t attack me, did they?” Ehren replied lightly, as if nothing was wrong.
“You were just lucky! What if—“
“Luc,” he called out with that British accent. “I am okay. You’re afraid my father will fire you if I got injured?”
“No, just that—“
“You’re not afraid of it, right? So don’t worry me anymore,” he replied with a smile. His crystal blue eyes twinkled with excitement. “I’m just here for a few months. I want to enjoy everything here. So don’t forbid me from touching those animals.”
“Ehren, you can die if they attacked you!” I yelled, totally out of patience.
“Then you would protect me if they were going to do so,” he grinned.
“Who says I would?! I would just let them rip your flesh and tell your Dad to make another son, dammit!”
Ehren laughed out loud, making me wanted to smack him here and there. I guess this kid just couldn’t deal with serious things.
“Young men make mistakes, Luc. You know that, right?” he leaned forward and put his chin on the dashboard. “I’m just nineteen. I want to make mistakes. As long as I can fix it. I want to go crazy for as long as I can, before I grow up and need to behave maturely.”
I stared at him for a few moments. He was silent for a short time, his eyes closed, and he let the sunlight warmed his face. I noticed that he had no freckle at all.
“Hey,” he leaned back to his seat. “I want to see some birds.”
“There are maleo, burung tahun, celepuk Sulawesi, and so on. Which one do you want to see?”
“Take me to see all of them,” he grinned widely. “Perhaps I can take a picture with a bird on my shoulder. That would be cool.”
When the sun started to set, Ehren and I had already taken a look at various species of birds and reptiles. He totally freaked me out when he took a cobra and put it around his neck. He even kissed a Python reticulates without any doubt. After seeing the reptiles, I decided to end the tour and continue it tomorrow. I sincerely hoped that I wouldn’t be the one to accompany Ehren tomorrow. I could not afford being freaked out over and over again.
“Come in, Luc. Have some tea first,” Ehren said to me when we arrived at his house. I nodded. Today has been really exhausting, it would be good to relax and drink some tea.
When he opened the door for me, something ran pass my legs, making me jump in surprise.
“ Muc! Come back here, naughty piglet!” Ehren yelled immediately.
I turned back and saw ‘the thing’, it was a small pig. A piglet, it was.
“Why are you keeping that thing?!” I pointed at the piglet with shaking finger. “That’s not a pet.”
“It’s just cute, I brought him from my home in Dublin. I have kept him with me for years,” Ehren picked up the piglet and held it in his arms. “I even bring him here because I don’t want to be separated with him.”
“Hmp. Make sure you bathe it often,” I frowned.
“Everytime I take a bath, I would bath him also, so we bathe together,” he chuckled when the pig made a noise.
“That’s disgusting,” I said flatly. Ehren just laughed it off. He put Muc down before asking me to come in.
Even though Ehren was really loud before, but in his house, he transformed into a completely different person, surprisingly calm. He had a gramophone, it played Vivaldi’s songs for us. As he made the tea without making any sounds, Muc laid leisurely beside his feet.
I looked around the house. Even though Mr. Lawrence often asked me to go here, but I had only gone to his small observation centre and not this house. Ehren’s family pictures are everywhere.
“Tea’s ready,” his voice surprised me to the point of gasping.
“Geez,” I murmured. “Thank you.”
Ehren sank down on the sofa in front of me. The piglet immediately jumped onto his lap.
It was silent at first, both of us said nothing but listened to the classical music.
“Thank you for today, Luc,” it was Ehren who talked first.
“Uh yeah, you really worked me out today,” I scratched my un-itchy head.
“I was just excited,” he said with a smile. “Never seen those animals before. My first day here is really great.”
“So what do you think of this nature reserve? After you look around you would be ready to work, eh?” I asked.
“My work is actually to look around,” he answered, grinning widely. “I’m going to write an article from what I see. I have a part-time work as a freelance columnist. I will also help my Dad with the pictures. That way he won’t be too busy.”
“So… does that mean…”
“Please accompany me again tomorrow, Luc?”
The next day we went to see the babyroussas again. Ehren took some notes and interviewed the man we met before.
Everyone greeted us everywhere we go, mostly saying hi for Ehren.
“You’re quite famous now, huh?” I nudged his ribs. “It has just been a day and everyone has known you already.”
“You just have to be a little more easy-going,” he said with a chuckle. “Luc is just too strict, people would think that you didn’t want to befriend them.”
I said nothing more as I watched him writing things on his notepad.
“We just can’t trust people too easily,” I shrugged. He turned his head to look at me. “Nowadays people are doing wicked things.”
“But I trust Luc already,” Ehren replied with a smile. “You are a good guy.”
I feel my cheeks warmed up at his compliment. “Uh, I rarely hear that.”
“Good,” he giggled. “That means you would remember me as the one who gave that compliment.”
I let out a chuckle and ruffled his hair. He pushed me playfully and then we continued walking to take some more notes.
It has been two months since Ehren came here, yet he hadn’t seen all the animals yet, and he called it “Saving up for later”. It has been my daily routine to accompany him taking some notes and pictures. Everyone has been so friendly with him. He even helped some of the native workers to do their jobs, and in exchange, they taught him their language. At first it was annoying to follow him everywhere he goes, but as we grew closer, I didn’t mind anymore. Besides, his father would gladly give me additional salary by accompanying him.
Ehren was still the same loud guy, the same reckless guy. Living so close to the nature for two months didn’t change him at all. And I was still the same panicky guy, freaking out every time he touched a dangerous animal.
Still, everyone would be stunned by Ehren’s natural talent of being so comfortable around wild animals. He can touch them without being afraid that they would attack him. They didn’t. As if they knew Ehren wouldn’t harm them. I was also stunned, and still wondering why he could do that. Since the first time he touched the babyroussas, I knew that there’s something extraordinary with this boy. It made me want to know him more…
“Luc, what is in that cage?”
I stopped the jeep in front of the cage. Ehren immediately jumped out and ran toward the cage.
“What’s inside?” he asked again, impatient.
“It’s the world’s smallest primate, called Tarsius spectrum,” I explained as I opened the cage door. “They are from the family Tarsiidae, the only remaining family of Tarsiiformes order.”
We stepped inside the cage. Ehren quickly walked toward a tree in the centre of the cage. There was a box nailed on its trunk.
“Oh! Look at them!” he exclaimed. “Those are the cutest creatures I have ever seen since I visited here!”
A tarsius moved out of the box and looked at us with its extremely huge eyes, as if to protect the other apes inside the box.
Ehren—as I expected—extended his hand and took the tarsius softly, putting it on his palm.
“They are nocturnal animals. That’s why they have such big eyes, so they can see well in the dark,” I explained again. He nodded slightly, he was too fascinated by the animal on his hand.
“So far this is my favourite animal,” he chuckled. His index finger stroked the soft fur of tarsius. “It’s very cute, can I take one as a pet?”
“They are protected under conservation, so you can’t,” I smiled. Somehow it feels nice to see him interacting with the small, delicate animals. Usually he laughed out loud with the bigger, more dangerous animals. But now, he just stroked it with such gentleness, not making any noise but smiling softly at the endemic animal. It was like seeing the calm side of him which I only saw when we were at his house.
The other tarsiuses came out of the box, first their head only, then their entire body. They climbed to branches nearest to Ehren and observed him closely with their big eyes.
Seeing that he was no threat, some of them jumped on his shoulders, making him giggle.
I watched as he played with them, his face completely peaceful, happy. Every giggle he produced rang in my ears like small bells.
He was beautiful.
Would it be wrong for me to like him?
Ehren was Mr. Lawrence’s son. I shouldn’t mess around with him if I still wanted to work here.
But I just couldn’t help it. Watching him closely everyday for more than five hours, going to his house, playing with his pet piglet… all those times we spent together has drawn me closer to him. Closer and closer until I fell for him.
“Take a picture of me, Luc! Quick, this is the perfect position!”
I snapped back to reality. “Okay.”
“Yeah, that’s enough with you guys,” he said to the tiny apes, as if they would understand him. “If I happen to have time tomorrow, I would come back and see you again.”
We got in the taxi again. Ehren started to talk about the tarsius, how cute they were, how soft their fur was. I didn’t say anything, just stared at him, observing how his lips moved as he talked.
“Why don’t you say something, Luc?”
“Sorry, I guess I’m just tired.”
“Want to have some cheesecakes at my house? Dad just bought it yesterday.”
“Sure,” I smiled. Spending time with him, just the two of us. Again.
“Hey, everyone’s amazed with your talent. What’s your secret, actually?”
“Talent? What talent?” Ehren cut another slice of cheesecake and put it on the floor for Muc to eat.
“You can easily interact with animal without being afraid of their attack.”
“It’s not a talent, really,” he chuckled. “It’s because I’m eager to know. I just love the animals. When you love someone and you approach them, they can sense which person really loves them and which person approaches them just to play around. I think that also happens to animal. Because they sensed that I would not hurt them, so, yeah, they’re just comfortable around me. The most important thing is that you need to stay gentle near them, so they won’t be disturbed.”
I put down my cup. Talking like that, have you sensed that someone is approaching you because he really likes you?
“Hm, even though I really like it here but I need to leave soon. Perhaps next week,” Ehren scratched his head. “I don’t want to leave. Dublin’s boring, and university sucks. I want to be here forever. This place is unique and exotic.”
“Next week?” I felt my eyes widened.
“Yeah, too quick huh? But Mom doesn’t want to wait too long there. She is lonely, I don’t think it would be a good idea to leave her alone either.”
I didn’t reply, just ducked and sipped my tea slowly. Muc ate noisily he sounded louder than the classical music in Ehren’s living room.
I don’t want him to leave. It would be weird for me to work alone again. Though only two months, I have been very fond of him.
“Um, it’s almost 8.00 PM,” Ehren suddenly said, breaking the silence. “I think you’d better head home, Luc. It’s an hour and half from here to Manado.”
“I know,” I replied, standing up from my seat. “I actually should find a place in Bitung so it would be easier for me, but there’s no apartment.”
Ehren escorted me to the front door. Muc followed. I picked up the piglet in my arms. That was the first time I wanted to touch that animal. Even Ehren laughed.
“You look cute with him,” he said. I just smiled. “Why do you treat him like that all of the sudden?”
“I don’t know, just want to try what you said earlier, about loving animals,” I replied with a chuckle. Of course I didn’t love Muc. I loved its owner.
Ehren took his pet from my arms. I sighed softly as I felt his skin brushed against mine for a brief moment.
“Safe ride, Luc,” he said. “Thank you for today. It has been another wonderful day.”
“Yeah, anytime,” I forced out a smile. “I hope I made your holiday more memorable.”
“Of course. You are a very good guy,” he grinned, giving another compliment. “To me you are like an older brother. It was only two months, but I have trusted you more than anyone here. Perhaps even my Dad.”
I chewed the inside of my cheek before saying goodbye and headed to my car.
Ehren waved his hand at me. I didn’t even wave back. My chest felt tight. It somehow hurt. I didn’t want to just be a ‘brother’. I wanted something more. But Ehren was still young. He probably had a girlfriend at his place. He didn’t feel anything for me. Wasn’t he friendly to all the other workers? I was nobody special. Just because I spent time with him more than anyone else, it didn’t mean he liked me the way I did.
Perhaps after he left, I could forget this feeling.
The next day we went to see the anoas. They are only found on the island of Sulawesi in Indonesia. The anoa was a species of pigmy buffalo, and they were the smallest of the wild cattle. Ehren was excited, as usual. But that day I kept myself from talking too much to him. It started to trouble me to know that he would soon leave.
“Oh, look, there they are!” he pointed at a flock of grazing anoas. He started to open the door but I stopped him.
“They are very violent toward humans,” I said shortly. Ehren cocked a brow.
“They’re not that bad, you’re just exaggerating,” he protested.
“No, I’m not, I’m telling the truth for your sake,” I insisted.
“No, if I did nothing which annoys them they would not attack me,” he replied.
“Ehren. Don’t. Just see them from here.”
But knowing him, he was very stubborn, not a single advice I gave would be applied, and when I was not looking, he opened the door quickly and jumped out of the jeep before running straight toward the anoas.
“Ehren! Stop right there!” I shouted. He didn’t care. He pretended not to listen. I watched nervously as he approached the anoas.
They raised their heads, making noises which showed that they were unhappy by Ehren’s presence. He didn’t care. He walked toward one of the anoas and touched its horn without hesitation.
It bellowed angrily as soon as it felt the contact. The rest of the flock copied, and soon the angry noises had filled the air. Not feeling less confident, Ehren tried to touch another anoa. I stepped out of the jeep and ran toward him, gripping his arm just before the anoas started to kick.
We ran as fast as possible toward the jeep, the angry anoas behind us, chasing with a frightening speed. The jeep was quite far from us, and I was afraid that we would not make it.
But thank goodness, we made it. Both of us jumped in the jeep quickly, our knees trembled so vigorously they almost touched. The anoas used their horns to ram and bump the jeep. Though they were small but their force was more than enough to sway the jeep.
“I told you!” I screamed to Ehren, trying to sound louder than the angry bellows of the anoas outside.
“I didn’t know they would act that way!” he replied, looking outside of the window to see the angry animals.
“I have already been here for more than four years, I know exactly how they act, so this is why you have to listen to your elders!”
“Man, shut up, now we just have to wait for them to go away!”
Both of us stayed silent for a few minutes. I held onto the steering wheel to keep myself from swaying too hard. I looked at Ehren. He was looking outside of the window, watching the anoas nervously.
We stayed silent for another minute. Suddenly all the thoughts about him filled my mind. We were locked alone in a jeep and nobody would see us. He would leave next week. I would never have the opportunity to confess my feelings toward him.
This would do no good. He might be angry. He might hate me. It would be better if I never confess. Yes. Then when he finally left, I would forget all I have felt for him. I’ve never swung this way before, I could look for a girl, I could fix my sexual orientation.
But what if he also liked me? What if there was a chance? And If I never confess, I would waste my chance, throwing my opportunity to be with him.
I looked at him again. He was clenching his fist so hard his knuckles turned white.
The anoas started to get bored, so one by one, they left.
I moved closer to Ehren. Closer. Way closer, too close for comfort. I thought he still hadn’t noticed me. He was too busy observing the anoas outside the jeep.
I think I got too close when he finally turned his head and gasped. Perhaps he had felt my breath against his skin.
“Damn, Luc, why are you inching so close to me?”
I stopped moving. I started to study his face. His big, blue eyes, pointy nose, thin lips. His red hair sticking to his damp forehead. His chest was rising and sinking rapidly as he panted. His lips were slightly parted for breath.
My gaze dropped to his lips for a few seconds.
“Luc, I don’t feel… um… you know, comfortable in a position like this.”
I gripped his wrists and held it tight above his head. His expression changed. He was… scared.
“Luc, this isn’t funny.”
I didn’t care.
I leaned forward and kissed him softly. He wasn’t moving. He was too shocked to move. Then I started to apply more pressure.
He started to respond. He tried to break free, but I was gripping his wrists tightly. He started to squirm, but I was covering his mouth with mine.
I bit his lower lip lightly. Less lightly. A bit hard.
He squirmed again. I thought he was trying to scream.
I didn’t care, I started to suck on his lower lip. I tried to work his lips in any way possible, still he didn’t kiss back.
I want him, I want him, I want him, I want this boy so badly.
I knew that was wrong, I knew I had disappointed him, ruining his thought about me as his older brother, but I didn’t want him to see me that way. I wanted him to see me as a guy who liked him.
My free hand roamed his neck, caressing his soft skin. He moved uncomfortably against me. When I caressed his back, I could feel him tremble.
My senses suddenly shook me away from my crazy act, forcing me to pull away. I did.
I stared at him for a long time. He didn’t say anything. His lips were swollen from what I did, his breathing got more rapid. His eyes were teary.
“Oh my God,” I murmured. Slowly I released my grip on his wrists. “I’m so sorry, Ehren, I don’t know what’s gotten into me.”
He kept on being silent. He didn’t look at me. He was looking away.
“Please say something,” I plead. Good, now he’s angry. I knew he would never like me. I knew there would never be the thought in his mind to kiss me.
Again, he looked outside the window. Seeing that the anoas have gone, he opened the door and stepped out of the jeep without saying anything. I followed him. He started to run.
“Ehren, I’m sorry!” I shouted. I was too tired to run after him. Too guilty as well. “I know it was wrong, I’m sorry, please talk to me.”
He didn’t stop. He kept on running. He didn’t look back.
I watched as he got further and further. Guilt overwhelmed my heart. I would never want to see him again. I didn’t want to disappoint him more than this.
I didn’t talk to Ehren for four days. I often saw him going around the nature reserve with other workers as his guide. Mostly native people. I knew it. He was friendly with everyone. I was nobody special.
Still I wondered, if I had confessed casually like all the other guys do, would he say yes?
I didn’t care anymore, for that time being, I just wanted to apologize. I was feeling extremely guilty for hurting him like that. I was forcing myself on him. But it was difficult for me to find the perfect timing, when he was alone and nobody else was near him.
The next day, I decided to go to his house. I came earlier that day. I wanted to apologize directly, where nobody else was there, where it would be just us.
I got out of my car, locked it, then walked toward his front door. I was just about to knock the door when I heard sobs.
Slowly I followed the source of the sound, and found Ehren kneeling at the ground, sobbing. His shoulders were shaking visibly. I quickly approached him.
“Ehren, what’s wrong?” I asked softly. It was a bit awkward for me since I have not been talking to him for days, and I felt terribly guilty for what I did to him the past few days.
“Muc died,” he answered shortly, not surprised at all by my presence. I gawked slightly. Muc was very dear to him, it was his favourite pet. I knew exactly how careful he treated the piglet.
“But why?” I asked again. He sobbed again, more audible this time.
“I forgot to lock the back door yesterday. He went out to the forest, this morning I found him dead, half of his body was lost. Perhaps he was eaten by a soa-soa or a snake,” he paused every time he needed to catch a breath. It was difficult for him to speak at that time.
“Sorry to hear that, man,” I said awkwardly.
“It was my fault, I should have been more careful,” his voice cracked and he started to cry all over again. His eyes were already swollen, perhaps he had been crying for a long time. “Now all I can do is to bury him here.”
I was not sure about what to do. So I just kneeled there with him, staring at the ground. Ehren had planted a wooden rod on it to mark that his favourite piglet was buried there.
It was exactly not the right time to apologize.
“Well,” I started. He turned his head to look at me. His face was red and wet with tears, his eyes were very swollen. “Death came and goes. Perhaps Muc’s time has arrived. You just have to let it be.”
“He has been with me for years,” Ehren said between his sobs. “You have no idea how dear he was for me, Luc.”
“I know, I saw that from how you treated it, and I know it’s hard for you to accept, but there’s nothing else you can do right now,” I shrugged. Ehren started to cry again. “Damn, Ehren, don’t cry.”
I circled an arm around his shoulders, intending to comfort him. I immediately regretted my action. How if he pushed me away? He might think that I would do bad things to him right now. Wasn’t he angry when I kissed him in the jeep?
But to the contrary, he leaned against my shoulder and continued sobbing. Seeing that he was okay with my touch, I turned and hugged him. He cried, dampening the front of my shirt. I stroked his hair softly, letting him cry as much as he wanted.
We stayed like that for a few minutes, then Ehren stood up and wiped his face with his hand.
“I need to go change,” he declared. I stood up a few moments after he said that.
“Um, yeah, I also have to head to the nature reserve. Well, see you.”
He didn’t say anything, he just smiled for a brief moment and headed back to his house. He didn’t question my purpose of coming to his house.
We continued that day as usual. We didn’t talk for the rest of the day we spent at the nature reserve. I just wished I could hold him again like that, feeling his skin against mine, protecting him from the world. Too bad it wouldn’t happen.
It was raining that night. I watched the television, but I kept on changing the channel. I just had nothing to do. I was still thinking about Ehren, how I was holding him so close in the morning of that same day. It was cruel of me to feel okay about Muc’s death just so I could hold him.
I was surprised when I heard a knock on my apartment’s door.
“Just a moment!” I yelled, then ran toward my room to change my boxer shorts with a pair of trousers.
“Good evening,” my eyes widened almost two times of their real size, as if they would jump out of their sockets. “Sorry for disturbing you, Luc.”
“Eh, it’s okay, come in, Ehren,” I said, opening the door wider. He came in, shivering slightly because of the cold weather outside.
“Dad asked me to give you this,” he said, handing me something wrapped in plastic bag. “He made some food by himself yesterday, he was experimenting in Manado foods.”
“Uh, convey my thanks to him,” I replied. It was still awkward between us. “Sit down, I’ll make you tea.”
I came out with the tea a few minutes later. Ehren was seeing the photos in my photo albums. I put the tray on a table in front of him.
“Mr. Lawrence told you my address, huh?”
“Yeah, it was a long ride. I’m lucky my dad wanted to lend me one of his jeeps.”
I nodded, then quickly noticed that Ehren was seeing the photos of me in my childhood. “Oh, man, that’s embarrassing, put that back!”
“No way, you’re very cute here,” he giggled. I blushed as he mentioned the word ‘cute’. Ehren seemed to realize what he had said. It became awkward again.
“Luc,” he said, just loud enough for me to hear, though I had to try hard because it was raining. “I’m going to leave tomorrow.”
I had forgotten that he would leave. I was too overwhelmed by guilt, all I think was to apologize, I forgot that I had my time limit. I was lucky he showed up that day, a day before his departure.
“Before I leave, I want to say sorry. That time I was too shocked to think. I left you all alone and didn’t talk to you anymore,” he started. I was confused. Why did he apologize? Did he mean the time when I had gotten out of control and forced a kiss on him?
“Actually, the truth is,” he scratched the back of his head and looked away, his face red as tomato. “I like you, Luc. I really like you. But I have been too loud and annoying, I thought you hated me. Never been in my wildest fantasy the thought about you kissing me. It was too good to be true. Yet, it was kinda rude that time, you did it so sudden. It was not as sweet as I have ever wanted. I got out of the jeep and started crying, perhaps you only wanted a part of my body and you didn’t love me at all…”
“I like you,” I cut immediately. Ehren looked at me. His eyes were slightly watering. “I tried to stop myself from feeling so, because I knew you would eventually leave. You also said that you thought of me as your older brother, and I didn’t like that. I want you to see me as me, Luc, not an older brother. I’m a guy who likes you, Ehren. I couldn’t hold it any longer, I was insane, I know. That’s why I decided to force myself on you, it was wrong. I’m sorry.”
“Well,” he said with a scattered chuckle. “That’s… nice to know that you feel that way also. S-sorry for being irritating, Luc. I pissed you off every time I was with you.”
“No, it was fun being with you,” I objected.
“I just want to say sorry, so it would be clear between us,” he said. “But I want you to feel relieved when I leave, and that it would be easier for you to work without me.”
“Don’t leave,” I said absent-mindedly. “I want to spend some more time with you.”
“It’s okay with me, Luc, I’m still young. I haven’t even seen two decades,” he said. His voice was quivering. “But you’re mature enough to decide who’s going to be your bride, the one who would wake up next to you every morning, who would bear you children. That person is definitely not me.”
“That’s okay, I can deal with that,” I nearly screamed. “What’s the good of having kids if they’re not from the person I love?”
“I am going to leave, Luc, forget me. You only knew me for two months, you can find a girl out there, you can get to know her closer, you can be together with her in a long span of time,” he replied. Tears started to fill his eyes.
“Then I would go with you!” I finally screamed.
“You should be grateful, you work in a place I’ve always wanted to visit, not everyone can have the chance to work there!” Ehren shouted. He clenched his fists tightly.
“I don’t care, I can throw it all away for you!” Ehren gasped at my statement. “It’s like what you said. About loving for real and just to play around. I like my job, but I think I am just playing around there. I just want some money and I want to enjoy the uniqueness of that place. But you? I really want you, Ehren. More than everything.”
“Luc, forget me, we would never…”
“I love you, Ehren!”
He froze for a while. I felt my eyes started to water. Then I walked briefly toward him, and hugged him tightly in my arms. I felt his hands stroked my back, they spread warmth along my veins.
“What good is it, to finally know that you also like me, only to have you leave me?”
“Sorry, Luc, I’m sorry. I have always been irritating.”
Both of us sobbed in each other’s arms, clutching desperately for everything we could clutch. We didn’t want to let go. I kissed his hair softly, smelled his fragrance, savouring as much as I could. This would be the last time I could hold him.
Ehren lifted his head and pecked my lips. The peck soon changed to a passionate kiss. I felt his cold fingertips on my scalp, it felt so good. It felt so right.
I didn’t know how it happened, but suddenly we were in my room, caressing each other’s skin, our bodies fit very perfectly as if we were made for each other.
We called Mr. Lawrence, telling him that Ehren would spend the night at my place. That night, it was just the two of us.
Though when I woke up the next morning, he was not there anymore. He left a memo on the bedside table, saying goodbye and wishing me a good life without him. I sat there for a while before crying loudly, tearing the paper into pieces, calling out his name repeatedly. Exhausted, I leaned back on the bed, my eyes bleary and swollen.
I work in a nature reserve called “Gunung Tangkoko Batuangus”, located in Bitung city, one of major cities in North Sulawesi, Indonesia. The nature reserve is about 8.500 hectare wide, protecting various endemic flora and fauna existing only in North Sulawesi, such as Tarsius spectrum, world’s smallest primate, anoa the miniature buffalo, Sulawesi black monkey, and so on.
Actually I don’t really work there. My father’s friend, Mr. Lawrence, built an observation centre near the nature reserve, there he studied a lot about the endemic creatures, filming them and writing about them. When I graduated from university about five years ago, I visited Bitung city for holiday. I got attracted easily to the unique animals, and quickly decided to work here. Too bad they didn’t accept foreign workers. Luckily there was Mr. Lawrence offering a job at his place. I was also allowed to enter the nature reserve freely. I could even help out. So, I left Seattle and headed for Indonesia. There are some foreign workers working for him too, so I’m not alone.
Since some international events such as World Ocean Conference and Association of South East Asian Nations Tourism Forum being held in Manado, lots of tourists got interested to visit Gunung Tangkoko Batuangus nature reserve to see the endemic animals in it. The nature reserve finally decided to let foreigners work there. That gives me additional salary. Pretty much good.
“Excuse me, is there an employee named Lucas Velvet here?”
I turn my back, finding a Caucasian tourist, perhaps from England or Scotland, for he has red hair and blue eyes.
“Yeah, it’s me. Is there something I can do for you, Sir?” I asked, trying to figure out something, there’s something familiar with this visitor.
“Luc,” he said with a friendly voice. “Gosh, I cannot recognize you anymore.”
“It’s me, Ehren.”
I gawked at his answer. “Hey, it’s been three years. How’s life?”
“Fine,” he answered with a smile. His hair is now shorter, his shoulders a bit broader. “What about you? How’s a twenty seven years old man doing?”
“Don’t talk like that, it makes me feel so old,” I protested. Ehren chuckled. He looks way more handsome now. Memories of the last three years filled my head, warming my chest. I look around. Nobody is near us. I want to continue from where we left off three years ago. I take a few steps forward and kissed him.
And then negative thoughts struck me. What if he already had a girlfriend? What if he screamed?
The kiss ended safely. Nobody caught us in the act and he didn’t scream for help.
“Sorry,” I whispered on his lips, just loud enough for him to hear. “D-Do you have a girlfriend?”
He chuckled. “Damn, man, why do you ask that after you kissed me?”
I look at him, confused.
“I should ask you the same question. I was even afraid that you got married already!”
“Idiot, how could I get married when the one I love is not by my side?”
We giggled, laughing at each other’s stupid thoughts.
“I’m back for you, Luc,” he tells me. I caressed the side of his face. “I love you.”
“I love you too.”
Now locked in a passionate kiss, both of us promised not to let go again. We will start our new life in this exotic place, celebrating our endemic love together.
1 He asked for the animal’s name
2 This is the first time I see the hogs not attacking humans
3 Me too
4 Say, boy, why did the hogs not attack you?