Jukebox: A Short Novel By Jonathan Aquino (Part 1 of 7)
The birthday celebration in a house in Santa Ana was in full swing. Yugyugan by Karl Roy and POT was pounding the sound system. "Sige na people! Just get on now! Sige na, sige na, sige na-ah...!" Wally, who looks like Enrique Gil in Way Back Home, had just arrived. He worked his way through the crowd.
"Russel!" he greeted his friend who looks like Sam Concepcion in Peter Pan.
"I thought you'll never come, bro!" said Russel, shaking hands.
"I was assigned to the closing shift," explained Wally. "Kitchen detail!"
"Well, the important thing is that you're here," Russel patted his shoulder, leading him to Terri, who looks like Angel Locsin in Unofficially Yours. "Sister!" he said. "You know Wally, right?"
"Of course!" Terri laughed. "How are you, Wally?"
"Oh, I'm fine, thanks!" replied Wally, flustered. "Happy birthday!" he greeted.
"Uh, this is for you!" Wally said, handing her an envelope with a pizza restaurant logo.
"Bro, if it's money, you should have given it to me! Russel joked.
"Oh, they're just gift certificates!" said Wally bashfully.
"Why, thank you, Wally!" smiled Terri. "You didn't have to bother," she assured him. "But I appreciate it!"
"Come on, bro, let's eat!" invited Russel.
"Just feel at home, Wally!" Terry told him. "You boys have fun!"
On their way to the buffet table, Wally froze. "Bro, who's that?" pointing to a girl who looks like Julia Montes in Walang Hanggan.
"Never seen her before," Russel shrugged. "But she's pretty," he smiled. His mobile phone rang just then. "Wait, bro," he told Wally, answering it. "Hello? Where are you now? What? I can't hear you, it's too loud here!”
Wally was looking at the girl, feeling a strange sensation, wondering why the heck he's feeling that way.
"Wait, give me a minute!" Russel told the other person on the line. "Bro," he said, turning to Wally. "You go ahead, I'll join you later, okay?"
"Uh, sure, bro!" Wally said anxiously, afraid of being alone in a party.
"Hello?" Russel on the phone as he made his way outside.
Wally turned to look at the girl again. She was approaching the buffet table. "What is this, love at first sight?" he asked himself, amused and terrified. He took a deep breath. "What the hell," he whispered. "Here goes!" Wally went up to her, his face blushing overtime. "Hi, I'm Wally," he said hesitantly, feeling electrified. "I'm a friend of Russel, you know, Terri's brother?"
"I'm Jo!" she smiled. She has an aura of self-sufficiency that Wally found intimidating and compelling at the same time.
"Jo," he repeated, relishing the name while trying to look cute. "Jo as in ... Wait, let me guess! Josephine?"
"Josefina, actually," she smiled again, getting some juice from the punch bowl. "But just call me Jo!" She took a sip. "Where's your friend?"
"He's outside," replied Wally, gesturing. "I'm sorry to barge in on you like this," said apologetically. "Truth is, this is the first time I introduced myself to anybody!"
"It's not a crime to be nice," said Jo, picking up a paper plate and going around the buffet table.
"I work in a pizza restaurant," said Wally, following her like a puppy. "Russel and I used to be classmates but I had to stop school."
"I hope you can continue your studies someday," said Jo, forking spaghetti on her plate. "It's hard to find work if you're not a graduate."
"That's really my plan, but I need to save some money first," said Wally slicing the roasted pig. "How about you? Where do you work?"
"In a beerhouse."
"Hey, you're a joker!"
"I am serious."
Wally stopped laughing. "Really?"
Jo nodded, taking a small slice of maja blanca. "Why? You find me immoral?"
"Where's the club?"
"Ronquillo, in Santa Cruz."
"I don't believe it!" said Wally, admiring her even more for her utter lack of pretentiousness.
"Most people don't want to believe the truth," Jo smiled, walking away.
"Wait!" Wally ran after her, balancing his plate with both hands.
They stopped in front of the French windows opening to the balcony.
"Look," said Wally, breathless. "I'm a bedspacer near Morayta, I work in Legarda, I can walk to your club! I hope you don't mind if I visit you?"
"Oh, don't worry, it won't be until the end of the month," he laughed. "I need to wait for the next salary!"