Manolo caught my eye for all the wrong reasons. He wore a mint green polo the first time I saw him. It would have been fine because the shirt hugged all the right places, which kept me glancing at his bulging biceps, but his skin was dark enough to make him look like he was in a special edition, holiday M&M costume. He didn’t come off as handsome, either; he had a huge nose whose proportions I cannot describe in words, and a cold stare that didn’t seem too friendly.
He spoke with an air of indifference, and stood like he was too cool for school. When the professor asked about his hobbies, he casually said, “lifting weights,” while playfully flexing his arms, which made me raise my eyebrows with interest. We were also classmates in the same class after the one we were just in, and I saw that he was friends with another classmate who spoke in broken English. While I lusted after Manolo, I dismissed any notion of him being attractive.
Although we had every opportunity to do so, having been classmates for more than one semester, we didn’t start talking until a year later when I was invited by the same friend who spoke in broken English, who during the year also became my friend when I found out that he was actually smart, to their thesis group. Manolo’s body had gotten better-looking since I first met him, and his wardrobe had improved as well. In the beginning of our working relationship, I had no intentions of befriending him because I maintained my prejudices against him. I was right about him being too cool for school, his air of indifference still present, but that was about it. Our mutual friend assured me that he would make a great thesis partner because he had an amazing command of the English language, having read a library of literary classics. I became insecure about this, since I always saw myself as one of the stronger writers in class. I guess when my professor told me that, I was in the same group as Manolo was.
I didn’t let my insecurity take over, however, because Manolo was quick to prove himself as an asset to our group. I still didn’t befriend him, but neither was I aloof. I just never bothered to get to know him until I had to host the thesis group for a week in my hometown to begin our data gathering. On our first night, I offered him a beer and admitted that I found it weird that he was sleeping in my house yet I knew nothing about him. He laughed it off, thanked me for the beer, and told me to ask him whatever I wanted to know about him, still busy arranging data tables on his computer. I wasn’t prepared for what I was about to find out.
Manolo was the son of an incumbent mayor somewhere up north. His heritage can be traced to the Colonial Era when the Spanish took over the Philippines because he’s partly Spanish. He’s fluent in the Spanish language as well because his foreign grandfather refused to speak any other language except his mother tongue. I never really realized how rich and important his family was, so I felt guilty for treating him like my intern in the semester that had just passed. I would make him reserve meeting rooms and print papers because a) I appointed myself as the group leader, and b) those trivial things were things I didn’t like doing myself. It was hard to swallow my beer with all that information because he suddenly became this whole new person.
I was in trouble. I quickly developed a crush on him. I mean, I had already been turned on before by how exercised his body looked, but now there’s a real reason to have a crush on him. I developed a crush on him not because he was rich, but because he was so humble about it. Also, I didn’t mind that he loved being shirtless around the house during our downtime while working, or that I’ve seen him strip down to his underwear when he was changing into PJ’s when we would work overnight in my condo back in Manila. Combining his money and his body, he seemed like a perfect person. For a while, I was confused as to whether I liked him or wanted to be him.
Either way, I made every excuse to talk to him and to spend time with him. While the sleepovers to work on our thesis were necessary, they were secretly a ploy for me to become closer to him… and to see him without a shirt on. They were also my opportunity to drop hints that I had the hots for him, which I thought were harmless because I saw his photo on Grindr that made me think that he could be gay or bisexual, and more importantly, that I wasn’t making shots in the dark.
Like with my first college crush, I never told Manolo how I felt because I was content with the friendship that I had with him. We genuinely became friends over time, bros even. Besides, I found out later that one of his friends was using his photo to catfish other guys on Grindr, to see if we had closeted classmates who were secretly into Manolo, and Manolo knew about it all along. I still felt hurt, angry at times, when he talked about his ex-girlfriends, strange sexual encounters with girls from school, and girls he’s thinking of dating. I learned not to take it personally. He was my friend, after all. There was really no way to make him fall in love with me, maybe even if he wanted to, just to be nice. There’s a certain limit to the extent of our relationship—just friends, and I’m glad that I’ve accepted that fact. But that doesn’t stop me from fantasizing about him every now and then.