Louie Montenegro works for one of the Philippines’ largest property developers. Although his job demands long hours both in the office and on unscheduled work trips all over the country, it’s a job he loves. On his first trip to Bacolod, one of the greenest, most competitive, livable and highly urbanized mid-sized cities in the country, he meets Carl delos Santos, a successful businessman in his own right.
At twenty, Carl faced a family-run business in near ruins and the burden of paying off enormous debts. For ten years, he focused all his attention on reclaiming his family legacy. Now he heads one of the region’s most successful department store chains.
A chance meeting with Louie in a local car wash leads both men to an unanticipated romance. But when Louie's company recalls him to Manila, he faces a future without Carl. Will Louie choose career over love?
Louie tried to remain inconspicuous as he weaved carefully through the maze of white Monobloc chairs occupied by roughly twenty people waiting for their cars to be serviced. Some looked up when he neared them and went back to whatever activity they were doing, but the rest ignored him. No one spoke, and the silence was only broken by the low volume coming from a local program on the television.
He stepped up to where a commercial coffee maker sat on a three-tiered bookshelf filled with a mix-match of foiled snacks. Taped on the machine, a handwritten note boasted VERY VERY HOT COFFEE! FREE!! Picking up a Styrofoam cup from a tall stack beside it, he placed it under the spout and watched the dark brew flow—the steam floating up to his nose.
Louie took a sniff and beamed wide as the delicious aroma of freshly brewed coffee filled his nostrils. Avoiding the white sugar packets, he reached for the muscovado sugar and stirred in a teaspoon full, slowly stirring to preserve the crema, the thin layer of foam at the top. He’d learned new things, like appreciating that particular sugar, after moving to the capital city. According to his co-workers, it was the only way to take the bitter brew, and Louie knew when not to argue with them, especially after a highly convincing first sip. Also, they should know—the island was, after all, agriculturally dedicated to vast hectares of sugar plantations.
Taking a careful sip so as not to burn his tongue, he closed his eyes in bliss. The muscovado lent an earthy flavor to the native Arabica coffee. He found that out after asking the receptionist about the variety of coffee they served the first time he’d come there. Louie took a second sip. Hmm... perfect.
For a basic-looking place, the car wash café had just about the best coffee in town. Then again, the little city served great coffee everywhere. From what he’d learned in the two weeks since he’d moved there, the people of Bacolod, or Ilonggos as they preferred to be called, demanded only the best, barely tolerating instant versions.
Louie looked around for a place to sit. Off in one corner of the room stood a decrepit looking black leather sofa where a child lay sprawled on her back, focused on a gaming tablet in her hands. On the opposite corner sat a man quietly reading what looked like a local newspaper and taking a sip from his Styrofoam cup in between turning pages.
Louie took a steadying breath when he recognized the man he’d once heard the receptionist call Sir Carl. In his early thirties and of Filipino-Chinese ancestry, he had pale skin, short black hair, a clean shaven face, and was always well dressed. From the four times he’d seen him there—yes, he’d counted—it didn’t matter what clothes he wore, be they slacks or regular jeans. He looked sexy, especially when he smiled.
The first time Louie had seen that crooked smile, involuntary shivers had rippled down his spine, and his cock was quick to react. He’d only ever seen Carl in this particular car wash, never anywhere else, and he’d looked everywhere. He’d wanted to ask him out, but couldn’t risk getting publicly humiliated should Carl turn out to be straight, so he always made sure to avoid getting near him. He didn’t want to ask the receptionist either, for the same reasons.
Whenever Carl was in the carwash, Louie would quietly observe him from a distance, and always surreptitiously. The way he held himself, it was not hard to miss that air of quiet confidence over his own capabilities. He’d seen the way the receptionist jumped to attention whenever Carl requested something from her. Otherwise, Louie had never seen him flaunt his authority like so many others did.
And that was a whole other thing—Louie had never heard the man raise his voice. In fact, he loved the softly spoken and confident manner in which Carl spoke, be it in English or in their dialect, to the staff. Louie briefly wondered if he owned the place.
Surveying the room, he looked around again for a spare place to sit, but all chairs were taken. Sipping on his coffee, he peered out through the glass wall. The wash bay beyond had about twenty or more cars lined up in a double row getting washed, waxed, or their leather interiors treated. The washer-boys worked in choreographed coordination from one task to the next, driving cars forward, then out when the assigned task was done. Louie’s pickup, a company vehicle assigned to him during his stay there, was going through an under-chassis wash. Even from where he stood, he could see the clumps of mud visibly falling to the ground.
Louie glanced around him again. Faced with no choice other than sit on the sofa or stand in a corner, he chose to sit down. Neither Carl nor the little girl took any notice of him when he sat at the center of the sofa, making sure to move carefully so his coffee didn’t spill.
The cushioned seat held for a long second before his butt suddenly began to sink. Louie felt his knees give way, then, and much to his astonishment, he heard a resounding snap. He had no time to react before he felt himself drop.
Down he went, and before he could even blink, his knees were almost touching his chest. Forgetting he held a cup in his hand, he instinctively braced with his hands on the sofa to try to heave his body up. When he felt something splash over his arm, he ignored it until a numbing, almost icy feeling began to spread quickly over his skin. The burning sensation came a second later. Too quickly, a stinging heat overwhelmed his senses.