Not an ounce of hesitation was heard from Bri. Lyn was taken aback. I could tell by how her eye twitched for a split second. By now, I had mastered reading the most subtle cues in Lyn’s body language to avoid misunderstandings.
“You didn’t tell me Joey was a girl.”
“My bad.” Bri rested her head on Joey’s shoulder’s. “But does it really matter, ma?”
“W-well…” Lyn stuttered. It was astonishing to witness; I thought nothing could faze her. “I’m just shocked, that’s all.”
In all honesty, I was, too. But Bri looked happy. Personally, I think I was happier because they looked cute together.
“That’s exactly why I brought her here,” Bri said. “So you could finally meet her.”
“Mano po, tita,” Joey said.
“Kuya, are you lost? This isn’t your kubo,” Bri said, only looking at me after saying so and for a moment. I choked on my embarrassment. I was at a loss for words so I looked at Lyn for rescue and she saw the perfect segue. Lyn, this could be the perfect time to tell her.
“Yang, ay, Bri diay. Remember Buddy? He’s the–” Bri interrupted with the most time-killing “-Hmm”- I have ever heard, along with her continuous nod while looking at me from head to toe. She took some time looking at my toes before letting out a smirk after a quick sigh. Thankfully, I had trimmed my toenails before going to the resort.
“Makes sense,” she said when she finally stopped piercing me with her dead stare to reach for the tray full of lumpia. What the heck did she mean by that?
She took a bite of the lumpia and double-dipped to offer Joey a bite. “I never would have pegged you for a jesus flops kind of guy.”
I did not like Bri very much. Not because of what she said about my flops but because of her double-dipping. But I had to earn her trust so I was willing to postpone my disgust.
Bri proceeded to stand directly in front of me. “What are you? Like a 5’6?”
Wow. It had just become apparent to me that crushing egos run in their family. Sure, I was not the tallest, but I was not that short either. Bri was just unfortunately taller than me. I could not get over how Bri went for my height but I felt like I had to say something.
So I said, “Grilled bangus.”
Could I have been any dumber? Lyn went to save the dying conversation by offering the girls with paper plates.
“I bet you skipped lunch. You must be starving!” Lyn opened each Tupperware container to reveal all the food she had prepared earlier that morning. I could see Joey’s delight in her eyes. She must be a foodie like me. I wish I could say the same about Bri.
There were lumpiang shanghai, adobong manok, pancit, coffee jelly, mangoes, chicken lollipops, cassava cake, basically everything Bri used to love was set at our table. Lyn has excellent taste. That was why I recommended her to be our office cook. And that was also why I was her guy. She had been begging Bri for weeks to come home to her but Bri would always decline with a string of excuses.
“Maybe later, ma. Your lumpia went soggy na,” Bri said as she scanned the array of food prepared for her. She must be kidding me. “And this is just too much. I feel bad.”
Lyn looked down at the sand before answering. “Oh, I just wanted to prepare your favorites. You must have missed them for sure.”
“You really didn’t have to,” Bri said. “ But I don’t want to eat just because I feel bad.”
“No prob,” Lyn had to swallow a lump on her throat. “It’s not like I made these, we, we, I only got it from a paluwagan. Yep. Just a food bundle.”
I know for a fact that was not true. Lyn had been saving all a month’s worth of salary just so Bri could feast. She would stick to isaw and pastil to save when she could not eat a portion from what she cooks in our office. She had to go to the merkado at dawn so we prepared everything on time. I was only her personal lifter and kitchen assistant but even I was tired. I could only imagine how defeated Lyn was feeling. Extending my patience and trying to understand Bri’s cold shoulder was becoming a challenge to me. I was jealous that Lyn did not get me anything for my birthday last week because she was saving up for this. I did not understand what Lyn could have possibly done to deserve that treatment. And whatever it must be, Lyn’s still her mother after all. A sufficient amount of pleasantries would have just made her mother happy. I would be happy if she cooked me just any one of those meals.
“We’re going to roam around, ma, take pictures,” Bri said walking away, avoiding Lyn’s eyes. Joey took out a polaroid camera out of her bag. Before heading out, she grabbed herself a cup of coffee jelly.
“Tita, I’d have some of this, if you don’t mind. I’ve been craving for this po kasi,” Joey said to my Lyn, who could not look away from the sand she was kicking as she swung her legs to and fro. Her breaths grow sharper. A few seconds later, Bri called out for Joey so she left the kubo without waiting for Lyn’s reply. When we were left alone, I moved closer to her seat.
“Uy,” I said, trying to lighten up her mood.
I recalled why Bri became distant toward Lyn. Something about Lyn being a one-day millionaire and almost using up all of Bri’s college fund on Lyn’s 4Oth birthday. I met Lyn there so if you’d ask me, I’d say it was money well spent. It must have been a different case to Bri that she was that aloof.
“She really is your daughter ha.” I poked the side of her belly trying to imitate Bri. “Feisty. Hmmm!”
Lyn burst out laughing. She was quite loud, she hit me a few times. I did not expect I’d be that funny but I ended up imitating Bri more- dragging the vowels as she did. “I’m Bri now. BRI.”
Times like that hit me with a brick. Shit. I was so head-over-heels with the woman in front of me. Not even when she had those vacuum laughs. Lyn’s birthday was the 31st of December which made it easy for me to have a free meal that night. I was helping myself with Lyn’s mango graham when I noticed she was killing it on Celine Dion’s “I Love You Goodbye” in the videoke. Her every note was tickling my eardrums and I was not even a Celine Dion fan. That caught my attention. But what drew her to me more was how she let out her vacuum laugh when her voice cracked at the very last note. I thought, if I could make her laugh like that all the time, I’d be happy too.
“Earth to Buddy, Earth to Buddy.” Lyn joked as she pinched my nose. My perfect, slightly disappointed nose. “If you could stop daydreaming about me for a second, I have a teen daughter bringing her girlfriend situation here.”
“How could I if every day I’m dream girl?” I could see her blush.
“Bud, I’m serious,” she said. “I don’t know how to talk to her.”
“But you are,” I said, “talking to her.”
She leaned on the chair. “No, but really talk to her, you know?” she asked. “Like I used to.”
“What’s stopping you?” I asked.
“Well, for one, I don’t want to offend her,” she said. “Girlfriend, boyfriend, I don’t really care about it. We’re–”
“Just on different vibrations.” I helped her find the words.
“Exactly.” She started stress-eating the chicken lollipops. I got stressed looking at her maneuvering those with a plastic sfork.
“Give me that.” I snatched it from her plate and started feeding it to her. I knew she hated having greasy hands.
To be continued…
Princess “Preng” Arguelles is a twenty-something Creative Writing major at the University of the Philippines Mindanao. She attempts to capture reality-based ordeals in her fiction.