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It all started innocently. Brenda was just commenting how Drew seemed to be stuck in the early 2000s with his ringtone. Before everyone knew it, Drew was scrambling to his feet, walking away from the table.
“It’s nothing, babe…” Drew said over the phone. The phone call was a full thirty minutes. The group was already down to their last round of beer for the night when Drew came back to the table.
“Was that your wife? She must have heard what I said,” Brenda said apologetically.
“No. It’s okay.”
“No, what? As in that wasn’t your wife you’re talking to?”
Brenda was just joking, of course, but Drew replied with a hint of annoyance, anger even. “No, as in it’s none of your business, Brenda.”
Brenda raised an eyebrow, but kept her mouth shut. The awkward silence made Drew realize his fault. Covering his rude response, he plastered a grin on his face as he playfully punched Brenda. “Just kidding! That’s Lia, of course. She’s checking on me, as usual!”
The barkada let out small, polite laughs in response. But Brenda noticed that Drew’s huge smile did not extend to his eyes. Before she could pry more, he has already shifted his attention to the group.
“Guys, is this our last round? I missed so much of the conversation.” He raised his hand to gesture to the waiter and yelled, “Let’s have one more!”
“Well, you were gone for so long we thought you went back to Manila. You’ve only gone for a day but we know you already miss Lia and the kids,” Dimitri said, putting an arm around Drew.
Drew smiled in return. The ever positive Dimitri, always thinking the best of people. “Yeah, I really do.”
Later that night in the cottage they all shared, Drew sat alone on the veranda, looking out to the ocean. He could hear Dimitri’s distinct laugh and Girlie and Brenda’s giggles as they fixed their beddings. He smiled. How strange it was to share a room with these guys again after all these years.
“What was that all about?” It was Girlie. Drew was so lost in thought he hadn’t noticed Girlie come out.
“Hmm?” was all Drew could say. Standing this close to Girlie, after all these years, gave him a queer ache.
“About the phone call. You and Brenda…”
Has she moved on? They didn’t get a chance to talk about what happened in the past.
“Erm, it was nothing. I just got a little annoyed that Brenda seemed to be accusing me of cheating on my wife. I would never do that. It’s not my character to cheat on anyone…”
Girlie just smiled. Drew still hasn’t had the chance to explain to her what happened that night at the graduation ball all those years ago. She had never confronted him about it, either. Never even fought him on it or called him names. She only kept quiet. It took a whole semester before the barkada found out about their breakup.
“It was Tessa who asked me to dance with her,” Drew suddenly started, making Girlie’s senses wake up at the sound of their old high school mate. “Since it was the last day of high school, she said no one should say no to anyone or anything!” He was almost laughing as he continued. “So I said yes. You’ve gone to the bathroom with Brenda. I was hurt you weren’t wearing the corsage I had delivered to your house. It was stupid of me. I—”
“Ang tagal na ‘nun, Dre—,” Girlie tried to shush him, hoping he realized how uneasy she was about where the conversation was headed.
“No, let me do this, Lil.” Lil. That’s what Drew used to call her. “I’ve been beating myself up, all these years, thinking what could’ve been, would’ve been if I did not say ‘yes’ to Tessa. I didn’t know she was going to drag me outside!”
Contrary to what Drew claimed, Girlie wore the corsage at the ball, but Brenda mocked her, saying it looked so ninang-sa-kasal-101 so she took it off. Then she looked for Drew everywhere. It was Dimitri who told her to go to the parking lot, because that was where he last saw Drew. And indeed, he was there, with constant quiz bee champion and mini-grocery heir Tessa.
They were kissing.
Girlie remembered thinking of grabbing Tessa by the hair, of gouging her eyes out. But she just stood there. And remembered what her mother told her that afternoon. “Ilusyunada, no matter how much makeup you put on, you’d never be beautiful or alta like Brenda. Drew only pretends to like you because he pities you! You may be wearing one of Brenda’s gowns but you still reek of the dead creek you used to bathe in before you started being ashamed of where you come from. ”
But she was never ashamed of her social status. Everyone knew her house was right smack at Kalye Escarraga, where all the junkies and the scavengers and the prostitutes lived. Her friends didn’t mind she was constantly borrowing money from them for baon. Her mother, however, constantly accused her of being a social climber. She never once believed her, or even let her get to her.
Except that one night, when she saw them kissing—Drew and Tessa kissing—and thought they looked good together.
“I swear, I didn’t kiss her… I was so scared of you after that, I couldn’t even bring myself to talk to you and explain.”
Girlie gave a small, embarrassed laugh. “It was so long ago, Drew. I couldn’t even remember all the details.” She was lying, of course. She knew every little detail. That was what made her so good at her accounting job. “We were young, Drew. We both are in a much better place now.”
Has she really moved on? Why did it feel like time has passed Drew by? That 30-minute conversation with Lia earlier left him feeling hollow and empty inside. Lia, as usual, was curt and businesslike, leaving Drew to answer with lifeless replies. It has always been like that between them—Lia a trap, and Drew caught up in her. He felt like one of those pet hamsters going round and round the wheel that was always busy, but actually going nowhere.
He looked up at Girlie one more time, letting his stare linger. But she did not match his gaze.
“Well, we better get inside before these mosquitoes swallow us whole,” she said, turning to walk away.