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‘Almost there’ came a little longer but when they finally did, the barkada was still able to spare some time bidding goodbye to Luke, the hero of the day. Not long after, the guys ran down the hanging bridge to get to the trail to the falls, with the girls in tail.
“Bren, was what that all about?” Girlie asked as they carefully treaded on the wooden steps of the bridge.
“What about what?” Brenda was great at turning tables.
“Uhh, the little scene earlier?” Girlie asked while raising her eyebrows, coaxing Brenda to spill.
“Oh, well, you know,” Brenda sighed, peering down the ravine, “My emotions getting the best of me… again.” She then shrugged and paused to fish her phone out of her pocket, planning to snap the beauty she found below.
Talking to Girlie last night about the Big Incident may have taken some weight off her shoulders but Brenda didn’t think it helped convince her to “move on.”
“It wasn’t your fault alone, Bren.”
Frustrated that the discussion about her career hiccup was being brought up again, Brenda picked up her pace. “It was two lives, Girlie,” she said, not looking back, “I could have saved two lives!”
Girlie ran up to her and linked arms.
“What?” Brenda mumbled, her annoyance slowly fading away with Girlie’s familiar gesture.
“I know, Bren,” Girlie replied, her voice soft. “But from what you said last night, you knew the operation would be difficult. The family knew the risks. And they still took it. You still took it. And you lost. Maybe that was how it was really meant to—”
“—But I could’ve have saved them!” Brenda whisked away her arm. “You still don’t get it, do you? I lost two lives. Two. Lives!” She put up two fingers to Girlie’s face. “That’s how many that is, in case your math whiz of a brain has forgotten to count!”
Agitated by the insult, Girlie slapped away Brenda’s hand. “You’re such a monster, Clara. I wonder how you nurse people back to health!” She then zoomed past Brenda, whose mouth was turned into an ‘O’, shocked from the outburst.
They had been best friends since second year of high school, the year they got christened as Mara and Clara, after the two characters of a popular telenovela who were portrayed as polar opposites. And it was somehow a fit—Girlie was Mara, poor but intelligent and kind, with boys falling at her feet; Brenda was Clara, sophisticated, rich and intimidating.
“Why does no one ever send me secret love notes, Mar? Am I that ugly?” Brenda would whine.
“Of course not, Clar,” Girlie would always reply.
“Then why do you have so many admirers and I have none?”
And Girlie would always sigh before answering again. “Well, there’s your father…”
“What about Papa?”
“He’s the Vice Mayor.”
“And so.” And they would always end the conversation with that.
“Who’s being a monster now?” Brenda called as she caught up with Girlie, who was squishing branches and palm leaves with her walking stick on her way up to the trail. Dimitri and Phil were not far ahead, while Drew led the group by hiking about ten meters in advance.
“Oh, I’m not sure,” Girlie said sarcastically. In a louder voice, she added, “Wait, we both know. You’re always, always the monster.”
Dimitri had the better ear. “Oy, what’s the fuss down there?” he yelled to the two.
“Nothiiiing,” Brenda sing-songed in reply while Girlie put up a thumbs-up sign. Dimitri shook his head and went on to follow Phil.
As soon as Dimitri turned his back, Brenda kicked a few loose rocks, hitting Girlie’s calves, and jogged up to join the two boys.
After hiking for half an hour, the group found a small clearing. Phil initiated a rest, sinking down under a balete tree. Drew and Dimitri joined him, who both removed their shoes to relax their feet.
Brenda found the only flat rock available to sit on, which was a couple of steps away from the tree. She motioned for Girlie to join her, nodding her head to the empty space beside her. To her relief, Girlie came up to her and sat.
“Girl,” Brenda whispered.
“Bren,” Girlie whispered back. “I was only trying to make you see that it was not in your hands. You can’t make miracles. Doctors are only people, too. And people fail. That’s how life is—”
“Can we just not talk about it anymore?” Brenda snapped. “You’re just not getting it.”
If only the guys were not laughing on some stupid joke, they would have heard the fight that was starting to brew. “I can’t believe you right now, Bren,” Brenda heard Girlie saying quietly, but her voice dripping with emotion. “And I’ve always believed you. Everything you tell me, everything you’ve told me.”
Instead of replying, Brenda looked down and saw an army of red ants starting to come out of the mound. She thought of telling Girlie to move away but “that’s how life was.”
“I’ve always admired you. Even when we were still in high school. You were rich and beautiful. You had my loyalty. That was why I believed everything you said,” Girlie continued.
Brenda finally looked up and was surprised to see Girlie crying. “What are you talking about now?”
“It was you who told me to take off the corsage Drew bought for me because it was baduy.”
“And so?” Brenda didn’t know why this was being brought up that moment.
“Last night, Drew and I talked about what happened. That night. At the prom. I just realized today that if I didn’t do what you said to me that night, Drew would not have been pissed at me. We would’ve not broken up. I would’ve not wasted my life bouncing from one bed to another, from one lousy boyfriend to another, looking for that one man who could make me feel what I felt when I was with Drew.”
“What are you doing, Girl?! Stop crying!” Brenda hissed and pulled out the bandana from her head and handed it to Girlie. “You shouldn’t be pining for someone who’s already married and has a family! Besides, I saved you from him! Can you imagine what your life would’ve been if you ended up with unemployed, house husband Drew?”
“Oh my god, Brenda! You still think you control us? You couldn’t even control your own surgeon hands!” Girlie was shouting now, grabbing the attention of their three guy friends.
“Hey, hey, what’s happening over there?” Dimitri, as always, was the first to call out. But Phil and Drew were already standing up, starting to walk their way.
“Why are you crying, Lil?” Drew asked in a shocked voice upon seeing Girlie’s tear-streaked face. He turned to Brenda, whose hands were in fists. “What are you fighting about?”
“Nothing, nothing,” Brenda started to say but then her voice broke, making Phil immediately grab her by the shoulders.
“What is happening?” Phil demanded. “Bren, talk to me.”
At those words, Brenda’s own tears began spilling. “She said it wasn’t my fault. You assured me it wasn’t my fault!”
“Who said what?” Dimitri.
“What fault?” Drew.
“Wait,” Phil cautioned, but Girlie wasn’t having it. She stood up and threw the bandana back to Brenda’s lap. “Who knows, Brenda? You were hungover while operating on that pregnant woman! Maybe you did kill them both!”
Brenda howled. “You’re the real fucking monster!”
“I learned it all from you!” Girlie screamed back before running off to the trail. Drew automatically chased her, leaving the three on the flat rock.
Phil sat beside Brenda and hugged her head to his chest. “What’s going on, Bren?” he asked gently. Dimitri kept quiet, trying to veer his focus away by dusting off the soiled bandana.
It took a while before Brenda answered and in between sobs, she finally said, “I’m not . . . I’m not on leave. I’m suspended from work pending the investigation.”
Brenda was sobbing still, and it was now Dimitri who grabbed both her arms and shook her. “What investigation?”
“I drank the night before… Before the operation… And I killed both of them. I really did! It was all my fault… All my fault!”
“Why were you drunk?” Phil.
“B-because I found out… I found out… my Mom was… Mama was…”
“Was what?” Dimitri.
“Cheating… She has been sleeping… sleeping with Tito Rom!”