We were at Lanie's to hang out. Theo, Rey, and Ace arrived there first. I joined them an hour later.
At first, I was a little hesitant to come. The last time I saw my ex was during our mid-January trip in Aklan. After that, we mutually agreed to cease all kinds of communication between us, to help him to move on completely.
On my way there, I prepared myself to be warm and friendly towards him. That night, however, he was kinda aloof and somehow withdrawn—the exact opposite of his usual self. I can't force him to act otherwise, so I just decided to focus on my friends. Amidst the little tension in the air, the dinner went well. There was the usual exchange of jokes, insults, and anecdotes. Ace seldom talked to me directly, so I also did the same.
All of us were doing our best to ignore the elephant in the room, and it was going quite well until my gaze fell on a familiar paper bag sitting in a corner. It was Ace's, and upon seeing it, I instantly knew that it's trouble.
What occurred next made the elephant grew much bigger.
Ace must've caught me looking at the bag, because he suddenly uttered, "Sa'yo nga pala yan, Sep."
I stared at him, unsure of what to do, but he just nodded at me. I took the bag and opened it. Inside were a personalized apron, a customized plaque, a metal mug holder, a framed picture, a handful of letters and notes, a wooden coaster, a ceramic tic-tac-toe puzzle, and several laminated photos; almost all the things I gave him throughout our 3-year relationship.
To add insult to injury, he said, "Hindi ko pa naisama yung mga damit, yung coffee maker, at yung pressure cooker. Next time na lang ang mga 'yun."
I didn't expect all of it, so the blow was painful. I had no idea that the said gesture could hurt so bad. It's like being punched in the face, while you're already on the floor, writhing in pain because you were kicked initially in the groin. I was stunned. I wondered if that's the reason why I was invited.
For a while, I was so immersed with my own thoughts I didn't notice that the room became quiet. Theo and Rey were busy with their mobile phones, but I knew they were just feigning it. I never threw Ace another glance again. Lanie was nowhere in sight, so I stood up, searched, and found her in the kitchen, tending the dishes. I glumly approached her as she faced me with a knowing look.
"Iwan ko muna dito yung mga 'yun ha. Pakitago na lang. Di ko kaya iuwi sa bahay eh..." I requested.
She nodded and asked, "Are you okay?"
"Honestly? Hindi..." I answered.
"Pero naintindihan mo naman, di ba?" she prodded.
"I little bit... Sa totoo lang, it doesn't make much sense eh," I said.
"At bakit naman?" she quizzed.
"Nagulat ako. I didn't expect na it's something na magagawa ni Ace," I reasoned.
"Well, sometimes may mga bagay tayong nagagawa na di inaasahan, especially when we're hurt, di ba?" she countered.
With that, I shrugged. I didn't know what else to say, so I rejoined the trio in the living room and just sat in silence. I couldn't force myself to be cheery again; the damage was done. Fortunately, it didn't take long before we called it a night. I guess the main event was over, so it was no longer necessary to overstay our welcome.
That night, I went home with a heavy heart.
My phone rang as soon as I got home. It was Rey.
"Tol musta ka?"
"Nakita ko nga yung mukha mo kanina nung buksan mo yung paper bag, para kang namatayan..."
"Sorry ha, nawala ako sa mood."
"Actually, ako nga dapat ang mag-sorry sayo eh..."
"Eh kasi idea ko 'yun. Ako yung pumilit kay Ace na gawin yun..."
"Oo tol... Kagabi pa namin kasama si Ace. Tumambay kami sa bahay niya for dinner then uminom after. Dun na kami ni Theo natulog. Nalasing ata siya kagabi. Umiiyak siya tapos paulit-ulit na sinasabi yung name mo... Si Theo nakapagpatahan sa kanya..."
"Then naalala ko yung nabasa ko sa book ni Ramon Bautista; para mas madali ang pagmo-move on, dapat isauli yung mga binigay na gamit. Ayaw pa nga niya nung una, pero napilit na lang namin siya..."
"Pakingshet na Ramon Bautista 'yan oh..."
"Sorry talaga tol ha, it was a mistake. Sobrang bad idea pala, parehas pa kayong nasaktan..."
I could clearly hear the sincerity and the genuine regret in my best friend's voice, so I kept calm. Besides, I was in no position to get upset anyway.
"Wala yun tol. Naintindihan ko. Tama lang yung ginawa niyo. In the end, I'm sure na maganda rin ang outcome ng nangyari kanina."
"Basta Sep, sorry for hurting you ha, di namin sinasadya... Di na rin namin kasi kaya na makitang nahihirapan si Ace nang dahil sa'yo..."
"No worries. Kayo na bahala sa kanya. Just continue to help him, I'll be fine on my own. Thanks Rey."
I hung up soon after.
That night, my heart was split in two.
"Sorry sa kanina ha..."
His voice was very solemn, as if it was coming from a dark abyss, so I made mine as cheerful as I can. I also forced a gentle smile, because I know that we are capable of hearing such in someone's voice.
"Cheer up, Ace. Oks lang yun."
"Hindi Sep, I saw your reaction earlier, at parang nadurog yung puso ko..."
"Nakausap ko na si Rey. He explained it to me. Naintindihan ko naman, so don't worry na."
"Ang hirap-hirap kasi Sep... Bakit nangyayari lahat ng 'to..."
I could hear his voice already breaking. I knew what was coming, so it made mine croaky as well. In minutes, we were both weeping. All of the emotions bottled up earlier gushed out like an unforgiving waterfall. Talking became difficult in between uncontrollable sobs. Breathing became labored, as my airways clogged up. This is why I don't like crying; things get pretty rough.
"Sorry Ace... For causing you all of this. Sa totoo lang, until now, hindi ko pa rin napapatawad ang aking sarili sa mga nangyari. Galit pa rin ako sa sarili ko..."
He chose not to answer. We sobbed in silence for several minutes.
"Still there Ace?"
"You may just sell or give away the clothes, yung coffee maker, at yung pressure cooker... Please don't return it to me, di ko rin kasi magagamit ang mga iyan."
"No need. I'll keep them. At kukunin ko rin kay Lanie yung mga isinauli ko. I realized that this did more harm than good. Bad idea talaga siya. This isn't the right way to forget..."
"Are you sure? Kasi naintindihan ko naman ng buo. Do whatever you can to move on. I'll fully support you."
"Thanks Sep, but I'll be fine. Don't worry about me anymore. After what happened tonight, I can handle myself better now."
"What do you want me to do? How can I help?"
"Siguro let's just continue yung totally walang communication. No texts, no calls... I will also unfriend you on Facebook."
"Okay, I understand. Again, I'm very sorry... I hope you'll be able to forgive me for everything..."
"Matagal na kitang pinatawad Sep, kahit hindi ka pa nagso-sorry. Ang kailangan ko nang gawin ngayon ay ang lumimot. Anyway, thanks ulit."
That night, my pillow was soaked with tears.