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“You’re the real fucking monster!”
Brenda’s voice kept ringing in Girlie’s head as she traversed the boulders by the edge of the falls, as fast as her legs could go. The water gushing down the rocks was a reflection of the turmoil in her heart. She stopped, her heart beating out of her chest.
She was half-hidden in a natural crevice, her feet submerged in the cool water. And then she saw that Drew had followed her.
“Girlie…” said Drew, panting. He waded towards her and placed his hand on her shoulder to comfort her.
“Drew. I’m so confused right now. I didn’t mean to lash out at Brenda, but she is just so full of herself sometimes. That… that…” Girlie couldn’t complete the sentence, and she burst into tears.
Seeing Girlie cry melted Drew’s heart. This always happened whenever Girlie displayed her vulnerable side. He automatically felt guilty, as if the reason why this was all happening was his fault. Back in high school, he would always be the first one to apologize when Girlie cried, no questions asked. Seeing Girlie this way now, he couldn’t help but to reach out and comfort her.
So he wrapped his arms around her. “Oh Girlie…shhh…. stop crying…,” he whispered. “We all know how Brenda is whenever she’s angry or upset, but she is also hurting right now. Shhh…” He gently held her face, looked into those puffy red eyes and wiped the tears streaming down her rosy cheeks.
“Drew… wa—” But before Girlie could finish, Drew pulled her closer and pressed his lips into hers.
It took a couple of seconds before she broke away, and without so much a word, slapped Drew on the face, like her right hand had a mind of its own.
“Girlie…,” Drew started, cradling his cheek, his face with shocked defeat. “I’m sorry.. I didn’t mean to…” He tried to reach for Girlie’s hand, but she turned away to walk back towards where they left the rest of the barkada. But she stopped dead on her tracks when she saw Brenda’s face of disbelief and disappointment.
After a long day at the falls, they all headed back to the beach resort. The trek back felt like forever, with Phil and Dimitri’s earnest attempts to lighten the mood with their silly banter. When they got to the resort, they all went straight to their rooms and not even one of them mentioned dinner or their pre-planned activity at Aninuan Beach the next day.
In the girl’s bedroom, Girlie went directly to the shower area while Brenda made herself look busy by fixing her already very organized things. Refolding her shirts for the umpteenth time, she realized thirty minutes had passed since Girlie had gone inside the shower. Brenda could still hear the shower running, and wondered what was taking her best friend (or ex best-friend?) so long.
Brenda walked towards the door and knocked loudly. “Girlie!” she called. Girlie did not respond, so she tried turning the knob to check if it was unlocked. “Girlie, I’m going in.”
When she opened the door, Brenda saw Girlie inside the misty shower enclosure, slumped below the shower head, her hands covering her face, head on her knees.
“Ohhh….Girlie…” Brenda opened the enclosure, turned off the shower and approached Girlie with a hug. She couldn’t bear the sight of her looking so downcast. “C’mon, Girl, let’s dry you up and I’ll get you some clothes.”
A fully dressed and much calmer Girlie sat down beside Brenda on the bed. “You know I grew up thinking I don’t have a lot to give, right? Because my family is so poor,” she spoke softly. “But this trip changed all that. That kiss earlier… Don’t pretend you didn’t see it, Bren, I know you did.”
Under normal circumstances, Brenda would have said a lot at this point, but she refrained from saying anything and nodded to Girlie instead, encouraging her to continue.
Taking cue, Girlie continued talking. “When I pulled back from Drew’s kiss, it just dawned on me. It was so clear. I do have a lot to give, I have a lot of love to give… but I’ve been wasting it all these years on a false hope that Drew will leave his wife and kids for me. I’ve been so…so stupid.” She never admitted it out loud, but as she said it, Girlie knew it was true. But now she didn’t want that anymore. She felt ready to give up on that false hope. She had never felt so free, and tears flowed once again. God, she felt like she’d been crying all day.
At this point, Brenda knew she didn’t need to say her well-rehearsed apology speech. She took Girlie’s hand and they looked into each other’s eyes. And they knew they both understood, no long speeches needed.
After a much-needed hug, Brenda broke the silence. “We push away at what we don’t understand, but it is time to have the courage to face them,” she paused to smile, “That’s half-Hamilton and half-Brenda wisdom. We can’t do this without each other.”
Girlie smiled in reply. “You need to help me think about what to say to Drew tomorrow.”
“Pare, I can’t stand it,” Dimitri said. It was just after breakfast, and the tension in the air was so thick anybody could cut it with a knife.
He and Phil were lounging on beach chairs, looking out to the sea. It was a gorgeous day and they decided to just chill under the sun. After the intensity of yesterday, they all deserved it.
Girlie and Brenda were sipping mango shakes in the shade, their sarongs spread out on the sand. They were deep in conversation, looking up from time to time to secretly check on Drew, who was sitting under a coconut tree with a sullen expression on his face.
“Just let him be, dude. We’re all adults here. They’ll deal with it in their own way.” Phil replied. He knew a thing or two about dealing with situations that seemed to spell “end of the world.” In spite of the drama between Girlie and Brenda, and now Drew and Girlie, somehow this little trip made him feel a little better. Being with his friends was like a balm to the spirit. These were his people, the ones who accepted him for who he was, even before his family did.
Phil closed his eyes, feeling the warm breeze blowing their way. It has been fourteen years, but it feel like nothing much has changed, he thought with a smile.
He remembered the day as bright as the sun that day. It was the day he was allowed to drive his dad’s old Mitsubishi Galant, all the way to Tagaytay with the barkada. While stopped at a gas station, waiting for the tank to get full, he blurted it out. “Guys, I’m gay.” Just like that. He remembered having held his breath, awaiting his friends’ reactions.
Girlie, who was sitting right behind him, reached out her arms to give Phil’s neck a pseudo-hug. Dimitri, who was in the front seat, laughed out loud first before shouting, “COOL!” Drew, seated in between Girlie and Brenda in the back, clapped him on the shoulder, while Brenda, as always, made sense of the situation with words. A lot of words. She started out by saying how she knew all along, and she didn’t stop talking all the way to Silang.
Phil managed to hide his sexuality from his parents all throughout his college years. When he graduated and got his first real-paying job, he found the courage to open up to his family. When he told his mother, she was ever understanding. “Phil, you’re my son and I love you. Nothing will ever change that,” she had said.
But his mother had always been so meek and timid, hiding behind the shadow of her larger-than-life husband, a college basketball varsity player, successful entrepreneur and multi-awarded race car driver. She never stood her ground, never defended Phil and cowered at her husband’s rage when he found out his only son was gay.
Bitter and hurtful words were exchanged, with his dad ending it on a bitter note.”I don’t have a son! You’re a disgrace and you’re dead to me! Get out of my house!” he yelled as Phil ran to his room to get his things. That was the last time he ever spoke or saw his dad, and over the past nine years, Phil had only been in contact with his sisters.
When John came to his life, he acted like a father figure to Phil, filling the void his father left. Now that John was gone, he realized that life was so fragile to waste on unforgiveness. This trip had somehow resurrected something inside him that died along with John.
“…I hope they resolve their issues before getting back to Manila .I mean, you can’t continue dragging that heavy baggage, right?” Dimitri’s voice floated, bringing back Phil to the present. He playfully punched him on the shoulder and said “Dimitri, seriously. Get over it!” before putting back on his sunglasses that was perched on his head.
But Dimitri suddenly sat up straight, and not for the first time during this trip, looked solemn. “Speaking of heavy baggage… Phil, I have something to tell you,” he announced.