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Girlie held his gaze. Every fiber of her being screamed for her to avert her eyes, keep them on the ground or the ceiling or the wall, anywhere other than on his own—like she always did ever since their breakup.
This time, she did not look away.
“Drew,” she said, forcing herself to sound calm, even though her heart beat so fast and loudly and in her chest, she could have sworn he could actually hear it. “How are you feeling?”
“Well, I’ve been through worse,” Drew said. He shrugged. “I’m not even exaggerating.”
“I’m sure you’re not,” Girlie said. “That’s good to hear.” She drew a shaky breath. “We thought we were going to lose you.”
“I thought so, too.”
He sat up on the bed and put his hand over hers. She did not pull away. She let his fingers interlace around hers, his touch making her skin tingle.
“I thought I would never see you again,” Drew said. “I didn’t want things to end the way it did. No—” He shook his head. “—I didn’t want it to end, at all. I wanted it to begin.”
His grip on her hand tightened. “I wish I could start everything again. With you.”
Girlie stood up and walked over to the bed, still not letting go of his hand. “Do you regret that night at the prom?”
“Yes,” Drew said vehemently. “God, I do. I was young, and stupid. I wish I never kissed Tessa. Then maybe nothing could have ever changed between us then. Maybe we could still have been together now.”
“I regret it too,” Girlie said softly.
Drew’s face brightened at her words. “It’s not too late,” he said. “That’s what I realized when I came so close to dying. If there’s something in your life that is important to you, something precious, you must never let it go. You never know when it will be taken away from you. And Lil, you’re important to me.” He pulled her to him, wrapping his arms around her as far as his IV lines would allow. “I swear, this time, I will get it right.”
Girlie stayed in his embrace for a few moments, basking in it. She had tried so hard for all these years to push him away, push away her feelings for him, but it had never worked.
It took her years to realize that what she should have done, a long time ago, was to welcome her feelings instead of pushing them away, and letting them lead her to where she was supposed to be.
And this was where she was supposed to be.
She smiled as she whispered into his ear, “No, Drew.”
Drew looked at her in surprise.
“I know you regret what happened to us,” Girlie said. “But answer this, Drew, and I need you to take a moment before saying anything more. Do you regret being with Lia?”
“What?” Drew fumbled. “What do you mean, I—”
Girlie put a finger on his lips. “Don’t think about what might have been,” she said. “Or even what has been between us. Think about what has happened to you and Lia.”
He sat back in silence, his hands dropping to his side. “Think about the day you met,” she said. “The day you shared your first kiss. The day you realized you loved her. The day she said yes.” His eyes were now closed, like he was remembering. “The day you got married, and the night of your honeymoon. The day your little girls were born.”
She put a hand over his cheek, and gently tilted his face towards hers. “Will you trade all those happy memories for the chance to be with me? Me, who you’ve barely known all these years? Me, who’s no longer the same girl you knew back then in high school?”
Drew did not reply, but it was the answer she needed.
“Good,” she said. “I wouldn’t, either.” She smiled at him. “Because the thing is, Drew, we both grew up. And I didn’t grow up with you. But Lia did. Did you ever tell her about your sickness?”
He shook his head.
“Then talk to her, Drew,” Girlie said. “She’s been for you for all these years, and don’t you think that she deserves a chance to start being there for you again?”
Drew still did not say anything, so Girlie went on. “I thought, like Brenda did, that I had never really gotten over you, which was why all my relationships never lasted. I thought I was chasing down something I once had but lost, and could never have again.
And when we went on this trip, I was just so scared that the minute I saw you again, I would feel all of it, or feel more of it, because I never really stopped feeling it when we broke up. But when I saw you, I realized one thing: that the truth was, I don’t feel anything for you anymore. What I kept going back to all these years was not what I thought I still felt for you, but what that night made me feel about myself.”
She sighed. “I was blaming myself, that you kissed Tessa that night. I wasn’t pretty enough to keep you. Or smart enough. Or even rich enough. And all those years, I’ve always thought that of every relationship I’ve ever had. That I don’t deserve it. That I would never, ever, deserve to be loved.”
“Lil,” Drew said, frowning.”This is not true.”
“I know,” Girlie said. “Or at least, I know now. I didn’t, then. But I do now. And so I now can finally move on. And I have moved on. So should you.” She gave his hand a squeeze. “Your family needs you.”
After several more moments, he finally nodded.
“I’m sorry, Lil,” he said. “I’m sorry about what I did. I never meant for you to feel this way, for all these years.”
“It’s not all your fault,” she said. “I was to blame, too. But everything worked out the way it should be, in the end. Right?”
He smiled back at her.
“Right,” he said.
They sat there in silence, a silence not full of awkwardness, for once, but of warmth and comfort.
When Girlie left, Drew made a phone call.
A silence that seemed to go on for eternity, heavy with all the words unsaid.
“There’s something I need to tell you.”
One year later.
The plane just landed in Ninoy Aquino International Airport. Dimitri couldn’t contain his excitement, for he was now coming back to Manila a year since their barkada trip to Puerto Galera.
A lot had changed since that fateful day when all things got better. Their friendship became more closely knitted; his friends usually met up once or twice a month and even included him during their gathering using video chat.
“Nothing beats the feeling of being at home at last,” Dimitri said, pulling out his phone from his breast pocket to dial Drew’s number.
“Drew, pare, it’s Dimitri, how are you? I just arrived in Manila.”
“What?! You’re in Manila?”
“I wanted to surprise everyone! Any chance we can all meet at our usual spot on Friday night?” Dimitri asked.
“Uh, sure, of course, but what’s up?”
“You’ll know the same time as the rest will.”
Drew laughed on the other end. “Ah, the agony. Fine, see you then. And welcome home.”
Just as the call ended, Dimitri saw a familiar SUV parked at one of the parking bays adjacent to the airport’s passenger arrival exit.
“Dimitri!” Phil excitedly shouted as he hugged Dimitri tightly. “I missed you so!”
“I missed you too.” Dimitri held Phil’s chin.
“Shall we go home first?” Phil held out his hand and Dimitri instinctively held it as they walked towards their car.
“No, Ma. I’ll be home tomorrow. Bye.”
That was the last conversation Brenda had with her mother. She was preoccupied with the events that materialized in a span of a few days.
She went back with Girlie to their room in the villa. Her phone beeped, indicating she had received a message. She sighed when she saw who it was from. Just as she was about to open the message, her phone rang, and the caller ID showed it was from her mother.
“Yes, what do you need?” Brenda annoyingly answered. “Yes, Ma, I’ll be home tonight. Our vacation was cut short.” She stopped and rolled her eyes as she listened to her mother.
“Don’t worry, Mother, I will be home tonight.” She dropped the call.
Brenda knew her mother wanted her to ask why she kept on insisting her daughter went home by tomorrow but Brenda did not want to prolong their conversation. Ever since she caught “them” in bed that night, Brenda did not trust her mother anymore.
My dearest daughter,
I’m sorry I was never the best mother to you. I wish I could turn back time and erase all the bad memories that caused you to drift away. I hope you can forgive me one day.
Brenda held this note as she looked at her mother inside her casket. When she arrived home from Puerto Galera, her mother had bad news she did not take seriously. She wanted to turn back time and tell her mother she loved her, and that she was perfect to her, just as she was.
“That Ariana Grande girl has such a beautiful voice.”
“All the kids these days love her.”
“And that Harry Styles boy is good looking.”
Brenda laughed, she knew her mother was on painkillers and this was one of the effects.
But then her time with her was running out.
“Anak, why are you not offering anything to that little girl? Give her something to eat.”
Brenda looked at the direction her mother was pointing at. The hospital bench was empty. It was only her and her mother inside the hospital room.
Her time with her was running out.
“Where is your Tito Rom?”
“I don’t know, Ma.”
“Typical Romino!” her mother exclaimed. “Running away from responsibilities.”
Brenda raised one of her eyebrows and asked, “Responsibilities?”
“Brenda, he is your real father.”
It was the morphine talking, Brenda told herself.
The real thing was that her time with her mother was running out.
Tito Rom was sobbing. “I am sorry, Brenda. I am so, so sorry for everything. For all the secrets, the missed opportunities, the time. I was scared and—”
For the first time in many years, Brenda was speechless. She simply wrapped his arms around her father and cried in his embrace.
No more time to waste.
Weeks after the funeral, the barkada met up again at their usual spot every Friday night.
In the middle of beer and sisig, Phil hushed down everybody else’s chitchat. “Bren, remember when John died?” he asked. “You organized a get-together to help me move on… and I would like to return the favor.”
Dimitri slid a piece of paper across the table to Brenda.
It was a plane ticket to Coron. For the five of them.
Girlie reached for her best friend’s hand. “What do you think, Bren?”
Brenda looked up and saw four pairs of eyes studying her carefully. Those belonged to four of her best friends in the world.
She wouldn’t miss this for anything.
The end, for now. (Read Part 1 here.)
Thank you for reading and supporting MV Redemption! This has been such a fun and meaningful learning experience for all of us. We hope you enjoyed coming along on this journey!
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