To the Beach (Two)
For a party of three, we pretty much have the best place ever. The island is just a little more than an hour away from our town’s nearest beach and not so many people come here even during the weekends. I have decided to host a small party before leaving for Manila and of course, Paul and James are my guest of honors.
James and I have just finished the last year of high school and we have vowed to make the coming years the best ones. Apparently, jumping off the cliff after hiking about fifteen minutes under the summer heat is the greatest way to start it. That is according to James, though, not me.
Now, I would really hit this man in the eye until he gets a shiner if only I could do it midair. I agreed to jump on three but right after yelling one, he dragged me out of the cliff and right into the ocean. I am not exactly a fan of spontaneity. But because I am his best friend, a part of me is aware that I practically signed up for it. With blood. It does not mean that I will not make him suffer after we dry ourselves later, though.
“I hate you!” I yell the second my head gets out of the water. My lungs appreciate the fresh breath of air after the shock. James only grins like a mad man and it makes me hate him even more.
I look up at the sky and the sunlight blinds my vision a little. I see the abandoned lighthouse that sits on the cliff towering above us. This small island is our little paradise since we were kids. It has always been our sweet escape. It is one of the few places where we can do anything we want to do and be anyone we want to be without any judgement.
Today, James decides to be a jerk. Even more than he already is.
“I know you do,” he smirks, splashing salt water on my face.
If I have my way, I will put his name on the very first page of my burn book. But aside from the fact that I never had one, the way his mischievous grin change to that amusement of a ten- year old kid who just discovered the place has my mind changing. We are leaving the town in a few weeks to prepare for college and if anyone else will miss this place more than me, it sure will be him. He has always loved this beach ever since I told him about its existence. The white sand, the lighthouse, and the cliff are his favorites. He is always ready to swim for hours while I read a book and get a tan by the shore.
Paul is waving at us from the boat with the huge tuna he caught earlier in his hand and I hear James curse “that asshole,” silently. What a mouth, this guy has. I cannot believe my parents allowed me to be friends with him in the first place. And they are actually very fond of him!
“You know what they say; pictures last longer and I have a camera in my bag. It would be nice to make use of it.” I say to lighten his mood a bit.
“Why must you ruin the moment?” he raises his right eyebrow but I just laugh. I don’t think he needs more of my jokes about leaving this place along with Paul. I have already heard what he had to say about him not coming with us in Manila a few days after he fired him.
James has not been talking to anyone for three days already. But now, he is suddenly in my room announcing “Paul is not coming with us. So, it’s either you put up with me or stay away, alright?” He always acts like this and it is just one of the many things I hate about him. He pushes people away instead of telling us whenever he feels bad, hurt or just downhearted in general. I cannot say that I am shocked about this news. It is about time that James lets go of Paul because he also has his own life to deal with. He has Laura and a longtime dream of having a family of his own.
Being the kindhearted man that Paul is, he just lets James get away with all the time he drags me into his issues with Laura chick. But even Joanne knows that her little brother is just too possessive when it comes to him. I know he loves Paul. After all, James has spent the roughest part of his life with him and he has always been the father that he never had. Everyone knows that his presence has become some sort of James’ security blanket since we were ten. I bet living without him will be a big change in his life. Poor guy might already be having nightmares knowing that Paul will not be sleeping on the bedroom beside his weeks from now.
Of course, I love Paul, too. He is a great guy and my parents trust him with my life. Maybe a little less than James, but I am going to miss him a lot. It is just that someone has to handle this situation better than a brooding kid so I have to do well. Even just for a show. “Tough luck, brother. I’m not going anywhere but with you. And I’m sure he made you promise to take care of me all the time. You know, buy my toiletries on emergencies and PMS kits. I especially like the chocolates and chips.” He rolls his eyes and wipes the single tear he has been trying to control for the past ten minutes.
“Right. So tell me, what did I do to deserve you, Ann?”
“Paul and I came in package, I suppose?”
He shrugs nonchalantly.
“Come on, the first who drags the old man into the deep wins this time!” James declares and starts swimming back to the shore. Maybe I should just accept that I can never really get a revenge against this guy.
The inside of the lighthouse has a fancy interior from years of nourishing my love for Art and Colors. There are drawings of dresses hanging by the wall, photos of the places we are both saving up to travel to together in the future. I have always wanted to go to Paris or New York, of course. But James always says “South Africa is we’re were going. We’re going to see the animals in the wild. Because that is what you call amazing.” I don’t want to see the animals in the wild. That is just not going to happen. Right now, I am still working on softening his cruel heart so he can be a dear and come with me wherever I want to go.
James is drying his hair off by the wooden console and I see the huge box of trinkets and mementos we have been keeping here over the years. I blow and wipe the dust and it suddenly feels like it is my turn to face the inevitable. “I really don’t want to admit it, but I really do hope that we could stay here forever,” I say. James looks at me and smiles. I am glad that he is back to the calm guy I am best friends with.
“Yeah. But remember that thing old Paul always tells us? We have to broaden our horizons, spread our wings out there and fly.” Most of the time, James makes faces whenever Paul gives us advice. He tries to hide that actually, he looks up to him and takes all his words to heart.
I nod as I carefully open the box. He takes the doll and tells me this ancient story that once upon a time, I made a doll so awful that his version seemed better.
“Look at yourself now, though. You are enrolled in a fashion school. If that’s not a great improvement, then I don’t know what is," he says. It is my cue. When someone reminds me what I will be pursuing in college, I will say my thanks and bow gracefully like a Victorian lady wearing an elegant ball gown.
At the bottom of the box, I dig the little piano pencil case that started this boring but crazy friendship we have. I am such in a luck that there is an old but working battery we can use to make it work and I find myself playing the Birthday Song. “Just... Urgh! How can I forget that little thing?” James beams.
It has been seven years already but we have been inseparable since. Just to be fair, I have to give him credit for being there when I first had my period. I was too upset but he swore that he will always be my servant each time the time of the month comes. He gets my pads sometimes even if his guy friends would laugh at him endlessly. He can be a good sport. Occasionally, he lets me win when we play chess even though he constantly repeats that he is just doing all these things to not have to deal with a grumpy Ann.
“I still wonder when I will win over a chess game outside my period.” It is the third game and I have been checked mate. Again. What is new, really?
“Now or never,” he dares.
I frown, ready to make another remark when we hear the echo of our names. “We have to get going now, guys!” Paul shouts from the outside.
James chuckles and I can only scowl. “Fine. Not today. But someday, I am going to beat you! Remember that!” I stomp my feet to feign anger.
“I’ll be waiting for that day then,” James replies “I hope it won’t be too long, though. I have been waiting for years, Ann! Years!”
“Jerk!” I say, eyeing my backpack. Our letters are there and I need to leave them on the other box full of the other notes we have made for each other through the years.
“Three more years, Ann,” James reminds me when I attempt to open and have at least a slight look at an old stationery. Every time I open this box, I feel a sense of curiosity. What have I been telling to this idiot all these years? And what has he been writing me? If three years from now, I open his letters and see drawings of my scarred head, I will end him.
“Come on, Paul’s waiting. Just leave them in the box and let’s bring more next summer, okay?” He is already at the doorway, ready with the door lock in his hand. I take one final look at this small place we have been playing in for years.
“Next summer,” I whisper, “We’ll come back next summer.” I close the lid of the box and hide it with the old blankets under the console.
By the shore, Paul hands the keys of the small boat we rented to the caretaker while we race to get to our bicycles. The subdivision is about half an hour journey from the beach and while James and I try our best to compete with our sore feet, Paul follows patiently.
Around five houses before mine, James asks “Where is your dad going?” I do not know what he is talking about so I turn my gaze to our home and see my father dragging two suitcases to his car looking somber.
“I don’t know!” I shout. Maybe a little too loud. All of a sudden, I feel this inexplicable ache in my chest. I am confused. Where is he going with those things? Why is mom not even sending him off? I start biking faster, screaming for dad. But instead of stopping, he only moves more rapidly and gets inside the car to leave without even saying goodbye.
What the hell is going on?
“Mom!” I call out loud, panic rising by the minute. Mom is sitting on the couch. She is holding a glass of white wine. She has not touched alcohol since God knows how long and this is what she is doing right now.
“Come here, honey,” she pats the space beside her, urging me to sit. I watch her gulp what is left on the glass and pour more from the bottle in one swift motion.
“What happened? Where did dad go? Why was he bringing all those things, mom?”
She looks at me and I want to shake her and throw the glass she is holding just to get an answer. “He left us,” she says, “for good”. I saw dad leave but hearing it from my mother; with finality, I feel my heart break. Everything was perfect. We were a beautiful family and I have always tried to be good daughter. What did I do wrong to be punished like this?
“What do you mean he left us? Why would he do that? What did I do? What did you do, mom?” I ask and feel the tears running down my face.
“You did nothing wrong, honey. Nothing at all. Please remember that. None of this is your fault, okay?” she hugs me. I hear her. I hear her quiet assurances as she wipes my tears. Everything is supposed to comfort me but I cannot bring myself to believe a single word she says.
Just like that. I see my whole world crumbling right in front of me. I hear her in the background but there is a bigger voice and it is winning, whining and mocking me. It says “You’re not enough.” And maybe that voice is right. Maybe I am not enough. Maybe I am not good enough to make my own father stay.