Apparently, there is something else I am good at (aside from hurting him)
Posted January 8
Start of the new year and I had spent it with two of the more important men in my life: Kiefer and Joshua. (Yes, I used more, because as of the time being, Joseph is still the “most”). How come I am spent it with them?
Well, apparently I had to make a couple of choices once I am back. One was to pursue the road that is Joseph, and the first step in doing that is to actually ask him to talk to him. The hard thing about that option is to actually get Joseph to talk to me, as he practically hates me and even the sight of my shadow and the sound of my name makes him go scram (okay, I am exaggerating).
The other choice was to bring back the status quo that was there before I left for the States—me with Kiefer and Joshua playing house, while Joseph has his own sane little life. But then again, there is Anya. Anya who seems to be bent on making me and Joseph okay again.
Honestly, I don’t get it with this girl. Yeah, she probably wants the world to be a better place, I get it, but she doesn’t have to fix every strained and broken relationship on the planet to do that. Maybe Joseph’s giving her a hard time ever since I got back. Maybe that’s why she really wants me and Joseph to fix things.
I hope she knows that me and Joseph talking might (I should put it this way: MIGHT) have the possibility of leaving her boyfriend-less and heartbroken.
But then again my shoutfest with my dear friend Jeff made me realize a lot of things—or not. Actually, it was just two things: one is that I am good at hurting him, and the “him” here can apply to either Joseph or Kiefer, two of the guys who have done nothing but just plainly love me. Why is it just so damn horrible to love me? People who do just end up getting hurt.
And the other thing was that I was good at running away. Not something I wanted to be proud of, but frankly, I don’t blame Jeff for thinking that.
This time, I won’t do that. No more.
I am done running away.
As for hurting ‘him,’ that I can’t be sure of.
Listening to: Hide and Seek by Imogen Heap
“Did you talk Jeff and Cynthia into walking ahead of us so you can talk to me?”
Kiefer flashed Carlie a boyish grin as they walked back to the parking lot from the restaurant. Joseph and Anya had left an hour earlier because of Anya’s curfew (apparently she still has a curfew, as her parents want her home by midnight and she lives in Parañaque). Joshua, walking next to Jeff and Cynthia’s kids, is still on a caffeine-induced high due to carbonated drinks and is chatting animatedly with Nathan about Ben 10.
“Yes, I did, actually,” Kiefer said honestly, and he stopped walking, Carlie stopping along with him. She waited for what he had to say—after all, in all those years they had known each other, she had always been the one who is more patient and had been better at listening. “You still don’t have a place to stay, right?” he said after a while of gazing into Carlie’s eyes.
Carlie frowned slightly, and then shrugged. “I think I can crash over at Jeff’s place as of the mo’, but after that, I think I’d have to look for a place to stay. I’ll be starting work again in a couple of days,” she said, and then she took a step forward. Jeff, Cynthia and the kids are already at their car.
“I guess Joshua would love it if you’d stay with us,” Kiefer said almost shyly. “I mean, our house is near your office—I am assuming you’d still be working in the same—”
“Yeah, same company,” Carlie cut in, and then Kiefer smiled. . Carlie still seemed a bit predictable to him. He still knows her after three years of her being away. He placed his hands in his pockets and then exhaled loudly. “So there. The house is near your office and we haven’t touched the room where you stayed a couple of years back before you left,” he continued, and then Carlie sighed. Her eyes scanned the parking lot and found Joshua, who was waving at her and Kiefer, waiting excitedly for them.
She remembered how hurt the kid was when she left, and how, even though the kid was partly the reason she isn’t with Kiefer as husband and wife anymore (but then again it wasn’t the kid’s fault), she wanted to make up for the lost time with Joshua. She had treated him like her own, and after Alcide’s death, she felt herself become closer to the child.
“I am not pressuring you to say yes, right away, Carlie. You can move in whenever you want to,” Kiefer pressed lightly. Carlie cocked her head towards their company and then nodded. “But that’s just for the meantime, Kiefer. It’s not permanent or anything,” Carlie emphasized, and Kiefer nodded, but at the back of his head, he knows Carlie won’t be able to leave anymore—unless there is something grand and momentous that would happen to Carlie and Joseph.
He smiled at her. “Just tell me when you’d move in,” he said, and Carlie nodded. They walked again in silence to meet up with Jeff and Cynthia until Joshua bounced towards them. “Dad, did you ask Mama Carls?” he said, and then Carlie gave the kid a grin.
“It was your idea?” she asked, dropping to her knees so that she could be at an eye level with the kid. Joshua winked at her. “I told Dad I missed you and it would be great to have a complete family again,” he said, and Kiefer stopped himself from sighing. He couldn’t stop his child when he’s thinking that Carlie—and not Alexa—is his real mother. After all, Carlie had been more of a mother figure to him than Alexa, and Carlie’s departure a few years back had been harder for the kid compared to when his birth mother had left him.
Carlie’s face softened. “Well, you’ve got a good mother and father set starting tomorrow,” she said with a smile, and Joshua hugged her. “Thanks Mama Carls!” he beamed, and Kiefer just shook his head. Cynthia regarded the unlikely family in front of her—Kiefer and Carlie, whose marriage had been annulled, and the product of the husband’s infidelity in their midst. Cynthia just shook her head at the decisions Carlie has been making, telling herself that she would talk to her good friend soon.
“Can we go now?” asked Nathan, stifling a yawn. Carlie let go of Joshua and followed Nathan into the car.
“I’ll drop by, tomorrow, after practice, to pick you up?” Kiefer called as he rounded to the driver’s side of his car. Joshua was already comfortably seated at the passenger’s seat, trying to put on his seatbelt.
“Sure,” Carlie said easily, and then she boarded Jeff’s car. She thought she caught Jeff shaking his head as he revved up the engine, but Carlie dismissed it.
Everybody has moved on.
Maybe it’s time for her to start too.
“Look, Carlie—you’re our friend, but Kiefer’s our friend too. Can you do everyone the grand favor and stop hurting him?”
Carlie was about to take a step up the stairs when Jeff spoke. Nathan and Lucy are already upstairs in their bedroom while the adults had lagged behind, as they had aimed to get a nightcap but Carlie took a rain check. Cynthia stopped at her husband’s words, as it appears she doesn’t need to prep for her talk with Carlie as her husband is doing it right now.
Carlie turned towards Jeff, whose voice was marred with impatience and concern for his best friend.
“You think I love doing that? You think I love hurting him?” she asked Jeff, trying not to sound hurt. Jeff shrugged. “It appears to me you haven’t forgiven him for what he did to you a couple of years ago, so you’re repaying him by hurting him all the time,” he said begrudgingly. Cynthia, who stood beside him, touched him by the arm, asking him to lay off a bit and not harp on Carlie too much.
Jeff wouldn’t hear it.
“And you’re hurt now—because Joseph didn’t choose you. Because Joseph has moved on—just like most of us have when you left. So you want to hurt Joseph back. You’re choosing Kiefer this time, is that it, Carlie? But you’re hurting Kiefer. He’s human, Carlie. He feels pain, even though he says he’s okay with everything. He loves you, yeah, it’s a given—he’d probably won’t love anyone anymore the way he loves you. He’d probably never love anyone again, for Pete’s sake. But Carlie—”
“I get your point,” she said, cutting Jeff off. “I’m sorry, Jeff,” she said, “and also to you, Cynth. Look, I realized everyone has moved on. But I don’t expect people to take me in right away. I was just here for a day, Jeff, and as you pointed out, I started to hurt people again. Maybe Joseph was right—maybe I should have never come back.” She moved to the stairs again, but Cynthia reached in and stopped her.
Carlie shook her head. “And for the record, I have forgiven Kiefer,” she said, her voice breaking. “You don’t have any idea how it feels to know that whatever I do, that every single day I spend away from him with another guy or doing what I wanted to do with my life has the possibility of hurting Kiefer in one way or another. I love Kiefer, Jeff—”
“You’re staying because you know he’s the one person who won’t hold back on you. Because he’d love you no matter what. He’s your safety, Carlie.”
Carlie closed her eyes, letting her tears fall. “I wasn’t with my safety for the past three years, Jeff, but I survived. Broken again, but I survived. And don’t think that Kiefer’s the only human in this planet, Jeff. I get hurt too. And sometimes, maybe, I just need my safety to remind me that there’s something still good in this world, Jeff. That there is something still worth living for.”
She brushed her tears with the back of her hand as she went up the stairs, grabbing her things from the guest room, and was at the foot of the stairs in two minutes. “Thanks for letting me stay here,” she said, and then Jeff clucked his tongue.
“Carls, I didn’t tell you to leave—”
“No, it’s okay. I need… time to think anyway,” she said. She turned to hug Cynthia, while Jeff added coldly, “That’s one thing you’re good at, you know that? All these years, Carlie. You are so good in running away.”
“Jeff!” Cynthia admonished, but Carlie just smiled at Jeff as she hugged him. He was stiff to her touch, but he allowed himself to hug her back. “At least we all know I am good at something other than hurting people. I am good at running away too,” she said sadly. She tiptoed to Jeff’s ear and whispered, “Thank you for being honest. I appreciate it.”
“Carlie, don’t leave. Stay for the night,” she said, and Carlie shook her head. “I’m fine. I’ll be fine,” she told Cynthia, and then she head on out into the dark night, two luggage bags trudging behind her, no clear destination in her mind.
Joshua took the hand of his classmate—a tiny girl whose hair is in pigtails and who, upon smiling at Joshua, revealed a missing tooth, but the smile was still perfect—and they ran towards the swing. The girl sat on the swing while Joshua positioned behind her. He pushed the swing where the girl was, and the girl giggled.
Carlie sighed, wondering what might have been and what should have been.
She was fortunate that when she went out of Jeff’s home last night, there was a hotel who took her in even though her check-in time was weird and her face was swollen from crying. Jeff is right—she had never stopped hurting Kiefer, and it was one thing she was really good at. When will she stop?
“You’re still moving in, right?”
Carlie turned and saw Kiefer as he sat next to her on the bench where she had taken refuge. She didn’t know where else to go when she woke up this morning, and she just found herself at Joshua’s school. Luckily, the guard still knows her as Mrs. Costello, and he let her inside the campus. When she found Joshua, she didn’t go near the boy just yet. She has yet to come up with the proper words to tell the child that he won’t be getting the perfect family setup that he had dreamed to have—and that Carlie had promised him that he’d have.
“Jeff told me at practice what happened,” Kiefer said, his voice calm and collected.
“And you know I’d be here?” Carlie asked, frowning. “That is just amazing. You have the tracker for my emotions and for me in general as well. You amuse me, Kief.” Kiefer reached out and touched her hair. “I’m not… mad at Jeff. He has some valid points. Actually, all his points made sense. Frankly, I should not have come back,” Carlie said, her voice soft. Kiefer shook his head. “Carl—”
“Tell me—what exactly do you expect from me when I move in temporarily? I’m pretty sure after a while, you’d tell me that Joshua is settling in with that setup and you’d ask me not to move out. And what does this do to you, Kief? You should be moving on. Taking a step forward. Not backward. You shouldn’t go back to me,” Carlie argued, cutting him short.
“Carlie, look at me,” Kiefer said, and Carlie did. In his eyes, she saw conviction, of his want for her to believe him, of sincerity. “I am asking you to move in not because I want us to be the same way like we were before because I know that that wouldn’t happen. You’re my friend, Carlie, and—yes, I still do love you. I never stopped. But making you fall in love with me again isn’t the reason why I wanted you to move in. You have nowhere to go, Carlie. I am here.”
Carlie smiled bitterly. “I was half-expecting that… when I get here, I have Joseph. But…” she sighed heavily. “Jeff said that you’re my safety.”
“I think I am,” Kiefer said smoothly.
“If I move out, it will hurt Joshua. And I don’t want to hurt you any more than I have, Kiefer,” Carlie retorted.
Kiefer stopped to think. “Carl, let’s just think about the now. Right now, Joshua needs you. I know he is not your responsibility—”
“Shut up, Kiefer,” Carlie cut in. “He is my responsibility the moment I allowed him to call me and treat me as his mother,” she said, and Keifer sighed. “Joshua is a part of my life just as you are, Kiefer,” she pressed. “But making you part of my life, Kiefer—you guys both will get hurt, and I can’t have that.”
“Look, all that matter right now is you are here, back home, and you still have a family. You still have Joshua and me, Carlie.” Carlie closed her eyes and leaned her head against Kiefer’s shoulder.
“I don’t deserve you. You, who have loved me so much,” she whispered. Kiefer kissed her on the forehead.
“Look, Joshua still has an hour to go before his class lets him out. You want to eat first?” he asked, and Carlie nodded, standing up.
And as if it was the most normal thing to do, Kiefer held her hand as they walked to the nearby canteen.
“Carl, someone’s looking for you.”
Carlie looked up at Kiefer, a frown on her face. It was her second day at Kiefer’s home—more like the home she had once shared with Kiefer back when they were husband and wife—and she was still busy unpacking her things. She would be starting work again in a couple of days, and she has to add to her list a very persistent reporter from one of the three leading TV networks, asking her for an interview.
“If it was that reporter again—” Carlie began to say, but Kiefer shook his head. He took a step aside to reveal her visitor: Anya.
Carlie suddenly wished it was just the reporter who was looking for her instead of Anya.
“Hi Carlie. I hope I am not disturbing you or anything,” she said, and then Kiefer excused himself, saying he’ll be back with their snacks. Carlie wondered what the snacks constitute of, as they had been living off fastfood and takeouts for the past two days as Kiefer said his maid is on a day off. Carlie has yet to grasp the role of a housewife—not that she has to fully fulfill that role as she isn’t married to Kiefer anymore.
“Come in,” Carlie said, and Anya did, taking in her bedroom. It was actually the nursery that Carlie and Joseph had “designed” and bought items for. The room still held that “outer space” theme, while its walls looked like the walls at a kindergarten classroom—letters lined one wall while the numbers lined the other.
“I came by Jeff’s, but he said you’re staying with Kiefer,” Anya said, almost cheerfully. “Was this Joshua’s room when he was a kid?”
Carlie shook her head. “This was Alcide’s.” Anya gave her a blank look in return. “I forget that you were about seventeen when all these happened. You were still probably in high school, I guess?” Carlie said, smiling a bit. Anya nodded, sitting on the edge of the bed.
“You knew that Kiefer and I were married before, right?” Carlie said, and Anya nodded. “And then we encountered the obstacle that was his infidelity and—”
“I didn’t know that he cheated. I always thought Joshua was your son.”
Carlie stopped herself from shaking her head at the girl’s innocence. She’s strong, but innocent. Shielded from all of the world’s pains and challenges. She just sees the good and screens out the bad. Too optimistic. Too nice.
“He… got another woman pregnant. Joshua’s not really my son. He is Kiefer’s, but not mine,” Carlie said slowly. Anya apologized, but Carlie shook her head, placing another blouse on a hanger and walking over to the dresser to hang it. “And then I got pregnant. I stayed with Kiefer. It was the baby that kept us together. And then he died. SIDS. Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. One day Alcide was here, and then he was gone,” Carlie finished.
She turned to Anya, letting out a sigh. “But then again, that’s not what you came here for, am I right? You’re here to probably ask me about Joseph,” she said, giving her a small smile.
“Uh, yeah,” Anya replied, shrugging. “He doesn’t really want to talk about you. I asked him if he was mad at you—”
“He is,” Carlie cut in, making Anya frown.
“What happened? I mean, you guys seem to be… okay with it that he hates you,” Anya said, obviously baffled. “Did you fight? Did he hate you for leaving?”
Carlie’s sigh became even heavier. “We fought about me leaving, that’s it,” she said. “Anya, Joseph and I have been siblings for the past ten years. Like any other… siblings, we fight. We argue. We question each other’s decisions. It’s normal.”
“But you and Joseph haven’t been siblings anymore, are you?”
Carlie sat back down on the bed. “How do I tell you what Joseph and I have been through?” A bitter smile crept on Carlie’s face. She began to tell Anya about her childhood, about Ramon, about meeting Joseph for the first time.
“You dated him?” Anya said, an amused smile creeping on her face.
“Just once,” Carlie lied smoothly. “And then Ramon came home, told me I’m dating my brother.”
“Oh my gosh,” Anya said, laughing. “And then what happened?”
Carlie shrugged. “I was angry at him. He had the father that I didn’t have. So… we didn’t talk after that. Although Joseph had wanted to keep in contact. He wanted to be in my life as my brother,” she explained. “After a few years… we just saw each other again. And then that was it. Brother and sister reunion.”
“How did you find out that he wasn’t your sibling?”
Carlie took one of the jackets in her baggage and folded it. “Ramon had a heart attack. They needed blood for the operation. My blood type didn’t match his. And then I asked for a DNA test.”
“How did Joseph take it?”
“He made an offer. To still be in my life as my brother. Which was gracious of him,” Carlie said.
Anya dipped her hand into the baggage and started folding some of the clothes in it. “I don’t get it, Carlie. You and Joseph parted ways amicably. But why does he hate you right now?” Anya asked, and Carlie wanted to shake her. Anya is being oh-so-innocent right now, it hurts Carlie.
“Sometimes there are just… things you can’t explain, Anya. What Joseph and I have been through…” Her voice trailed. She reached into the luggage and produced a jacket, a ghost of a smile showing on her face as she remembered what the jacket means to her, and then she folded it.
Anya, watching her with intent eyes, stood up. “Carlie, please don’t be vague with me too,” she said softly. Carlie handed the jacket to her. “That was Bryce’s. I have a lot of that jacket since he needs it for his role in Secrets. You can have that one,” she said. Anya thanked her, and then waited for her to answer her hanging plea.
“I got hurt,” Carlie said, sighing. “I chose another guy, and then I got hurt. He was mad at me particularly because of the choices I’ve made that caused me to get hurt. Joseph told me before that he’s tired of seeing me broken, but apparently after Kiefer, I didn’t learn my lesson,” she explained. “That’s why I think Joseph’s mad at me.”
Anya shook her head, clutching the jacket that Carlie gave her to her chest. “But he can’t be mad at you just for that, Carlie. I mean, you have learned your lesson when you got hurt from your relationship with Bryce—”
“Anya, what exactly do you plan to accomplish when you went here?” Carlie cut in. “Do you want me and Joseph to be okay again? Honestly, I think it’s for a lost cause. For one, Joseph and I aren’t siblings anymore, so really, there isn’t any reason for me and him to see each other on a regular basis.”
“You guys have the same group of friends, Carlie,” Anya reasoned. “And I know you still care for Joseph. He still matters to you. If he doesn’t, you wouldn’t care if he talks to you or not. When we had our dinner after the game, you asked me if you guys can talk. I saw your expression when he didn’t want to talk to you, Carlie. He still matters.”
Carlie exhaled loudly, shaking her head at Anya. “He does matter, Anya. And he will always matter,” she admitted. “It’s just that… I can sense that Joseph doesn’t want to talk to me right now, and I am perfectly fine with that. I need to give him space. Maybe I’d talk to him some other time.”
Anya gazed at her, thoughtful, as if assessing if Carlie was serious in telling her she will talk to Joseph some day. And then she nodded. “You promise you’d talk to him?” she asked pointedly, and Carlie nodded. “Once his anger has cooled down, sure,” Carlie promised.
Anya nodded. “So how was Bryce Craig as a boyfriend?” she asked instead, and Carlie laughed, telling her how her first few months of bliss with Bryce were.
Anya bounced towards Joseph and into his open arms. Joseph hugged her, and she drew back, smiling. “How was your day?” she asked, her lips a few inches away from his. Joseph smiled back, and then whispered, “Earlier it was bad. But now, better.”
“Practice wasn’t that good?” Anya asked, still not moving her face. Joseph shrugged, closing the distance between their faces and kissing her. And then he released her, saying, “It was okay. It just wasn’t great.”
Anya shrugged, taking Joseph’s hand and pulling him to the nearby couch. “I talked to Carlie.”
Joseph immediately looked up at the name. “What?” he said, trying not to sound too angry about it.
“I talked to her. I went to her and we talked. She told me everything,” Anya said, and Joseph’s voice got caught in his throat. “Everything?” he asked, and Anya shrugged.
“How you guys met. How you and she were siblings and how you both were when you thought you guys were siblings. And then how she found out that she wasn’t your sister. That Tito Ramon wasn’t her father.
“That’s all she told you?” he asked, and Anya frowned. “Did she miss out on something? Was she supposed to tell me something more?” she asked, and Joseph shook his head. He had hoped Carlie told Anya of her feelings for him and the other way around, but that’s asking for too much. She had already relieved him of the pains of telling Anya of their history—no need to make her tell Anya about their love that was lost (and is hoping to be found again).
If Carlie had told Anya how they both feel about each other, then maybe Anya isn’t here, and maybe he would have jumped over to Carlie’s side at that moment.
“No, she didn’t miss out on anything,” Joseph said, his voice flat.
“She’s important to you,” Anya began, and Joseph grunted. He doesn’t need to hear that now. No validations of Carlie’s importance in her life. No need. “And ever since she came back, you’ve been oh-so-grumpy, Joseph.”
Joseph untangled himself from Anya and moved away, taking a seat on the living room couch. “Really,” he said, not as a question but as a statement. He knew he had been grumpy ever since Carlie returned—but it had only been almost a week since she returned. And yet he can’t seem to get his mood to pick up.
“Yes, really,” Anya agreed, flopping on the couch next to him. “So I realized—it’s either you talk to me or you talk to her.”
“Not to take away from all your effort, babe, but that just doesn’t seem to give me much option,” Joseph said, trying to smile. Anya rolled her eyes, leaning her head on Joseph’s shoulders. “You and Carlie seem to both be hesitant on the telling-me part. What was so bad about three years ago that made you guys into secretive creatures?” Anya asked.
I love her, she loves me, she didn’t choose me, Joseph thought. And now she’s back wishing everything’s fine which it isn’t. Everything won’t be fine.
Anya sat up, touching his face and planting a light kiss on his lips. “Fine,” she resolved. “You’ll tell me someday. I’d just have to wait, don’t I?”
Joseph kissed her back, and then nodded. “Someday,” he promised.
“Did you know she’s staying with Kiefer again? She was fixing her things in Alcide’s room when I came to see her. I didn’t know…”
Joseph had blocked out the rest of Anya’s story because of the first part: Carlie’s staying with Kiefer again? He closed his eyes momentarily, feeling that ache, and then the numbness, and then he forced himself back into the moment. “Why is she at Kiefer’s?” he asked Anya in an amazingly leveled voice.
Anya shrugged. “That part I didn’t ask. I figured it was okay, considering they were together.”
“Anya, their marriage has been annulled. Technically, all they are now are just—”
“Friends,” Anya quipped. “I know that part. But I think it’s swell that Kiefer offered Carlie a place to stay, you know? She’s just settling in again.”
Joseph didn’t speak. Anya assessed his face—blank at the moment—and made a conclusion. “So apparently you don’t approve of that setup.”
“No, I don’t,” Joseph admitted, but there was finality in his tone that made Anya stop to ask why.