by Lucille de Mesa, Celestine Trinidad, Ibyang Riot, Sarah Bulalacao, Mikki Shiu and BJ Medina
Click here to read the previous episode.

Shaken by what happened, Phil was thrown back to the moment he wanted to forget forever.

“I’ll just go check the car,” Phil said. “I’ll see you guys later.” He turned away, hurriedly pushing through the crowded deck.

“Wait, Phil! Wait!” Brenda called out. She was about to run towards Phil when Girlie stopped her in her path.

“Brenda, where are you going? Do you need help?” Girlie asked.

“Girlie!” Brenda said, her forehead creased with worry. “Please, can you check on Phil? He said he was heading down the ship to check on the car. But I’m worried about him. He just saw that old woman falling from the upper deck. And I’m afraid that…” Her voice trailed off. She looked up and met Girlie’s eyes.

Girlie nodded. Nothing else needed to be said; both girls knew what witnessing the scene could do to Phil. “I’ll go check on Phil,” Girlie said. “You stay with lola.”

“Bring Dimitri or Drew with you,” Brenda said. “Just in case.”

In case of what? Girlie thought to herself. But she didn’t really want to know the answer to that question.

“I’ll go with Girlie,” Andrew volunteered. “Dimitri can stay with you and help you if need anything.”

Brenda quickly returned to take charge in checking the vital signs of her patient and applying first aid on the old woman. She glanced behind her and saw Girlie and Andrew heading down below deck. She sighed and reluctantly turned back to her patient.

Andrew and Girlie found Phil inside his car, staring blankly ahead, cheeks stained with tears. Phil did not stir when they approached, did not even look at them.

Girlie stepped towards Phil but Drew grabbed her arm immediately to stop her. “No,” he said. “Let him be for now.”

Drew looked at Phil once again before remembering that fateful night when he found Phil in the same state.

***

It was a night at the pub near Phil’s place. Drew was grateful that Phil had called him up for a drink. It had been a long time since they had a boys’ night out. Sometimes, he felt he needed a night off from the twins and he was glad for the excuse to get away.

Pare! Long time no see. How’s it going?” He said, patting Phil’s shoulder.

Phil raised his beer mug at Drew’s direction. “I’m glad you came. Come on, let’s get wasted tonight.“

Drew knew something was wrong, then. Sensing his friend had a big problem to share, Drew sat beside Phil at the bar area and ordered himself a non-alcoholic drink, thinking it would be best at this time for one of them to be rational and sober. Tagged as the “peacemaker” and the “dad” of their group, Drew was usually the one they came to for advice.

“Why aren’t you drinking with me, Drew?” Phil asked, looking straight at Drew. “You’re no fun at all now. Did having children change you? And even everything around you?”

“Of course, it does,” Drew said while sipping his drink, glancing at Phil. “Why are you asking me about kids and stuff all of a sudden? Are you and John planning to start a family?”

Phil finished off his beer and replied, “John wanted to start a family, but I don’t think we’re on the same page. I still just want to enjoy each other’s company. Our relationship just started. I don’t think I have the same feeling as him when it comes to settling down at this time.” He held his drink tightly.

Drew pulled the mug gently from Phil’s grasp. He noted the small signs that betrayed his friend had enough to drink for the night: the slight slurring of his speech, the hazy, unfocused look in his eyes, and the slight tremor in his hands.

“Phil, let’s call it a night,” he said. “I think you should go home and discuss this thoroughly with John. There are things that should be faced head on. Don’t run away.”

Phil stayed silent. Drew repeated, as firmly as he could, “Go home.”

Drew wanted to drive Phil home, but Phil adamantly refused, insisting he could still drive. Drew watched as Phil got into his car, his steps slow, heavy and unsteady, almost stumbling over a rock on the path. He could not leave Phil alone. Not now.

He followed Phil home but got to Phil’s apartment moments later. He did not see what happened to John. What he saw instead was just as haunting, and something he knew he would remember for a long time, even if he didn’t want to.

It was the sight of Phil standing in the middle of the crowd that had formed in front of their apartment, his expression a mask of calm, devoid of expression or any sort of feeling. When Drew approached his friend and asked him what had happened, Phil only stared at him, saying nothing. Drew knew then that though Phil was looking straight at him, he could not see his friend, or anything else.

***

Phil was like that now. Drew knew nothing they would say or do would make anything better, so it was best to simply let Phil be and allow him to face his grief.

“You can let go now, Drew,” Girlie said quietly.

Drew realized he was still holding Girlie’s arm. He dropped her arm like it was on fire, and turned away, feeling all the blood rush to his face. “L-let’s wait for Phil there,” he said, stuttering slighty, looking at a bench in the far corner.

Girlie nodded. “We’re not leaving you,” she said to Phil. “We’re just here, you know that.” They sat down together on the bench, watching silently over their friend.

Phil eventually got out of the car, but did not speak to Girlie or Drew. He did not speak to them all throughout the trip, and even when they arrived at their destination, he only headed straight to their room.

To be continued…

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