I turned and saw Dan, a warm and wide smile on his face. Dan is one of Franc’s good friends—if not his best friend, as they practically grew up together. Their houses are literally just across each other’s. Dan is one of those from Franco’s barkada who is cool enough—at least in my point of view—to be friends with me. I had been seatmates with him on three different quarters in three different school years, for a total of ten months all in all. You don’t seat with someone for three or four months at a time and not be friends with them.
And he had been that guy under the list of “I’ve always liked and who never liked me back because I’m just a friend.” Or maybe Dan knew that Franco liked me before so he just stayed away from me. But then again, that is just wishful thinking.
I was actually surprised that Dan is here. He and his family had migrated to the U.S. about fifteen years ago. He came home when Franco and I got married, yes, as he is Franc’s best man, but Dan wasn’t able to come home in time for reunions. This is the first.
Back in high school, that warm smile of Dan would have melted my heart. But now, its effect on me seemed to have worn off.
“Hey,” I greeted back, accepting the bottle of beer he handed to me.
“Franc tells me your tolerance for beer is at four bottles,” he quipped, as I moved to make space for him on the metal swing where I had taken refuge. I needed to stay away from practically everyone—from Carlo who kept on harping on me, from AJ who just monopolizes me, and from Franco who had been casting me pained glances ever since I got here. Honestly I wanted to get over the hump of talking to Franco—I want to settle this now—but I know my heart just can’t handle it.
“Yeah,” I agreed to his earlier statement. Franco and I did a trial and error as to how many beer bottles I can down and still be sober during one of the days when he and I had nothing better to do. It was one of our random moments, one of the things I sorely miss. It was back when everything was fun and happy, when he and I are still oh-so-okay.
Why Franco told Dan that, I have no idea.
“I’m on my second,” I said, pertaining to the bottle he handed me, and I looked at the pool, its water ever so clear. The metal swing was about six feet away from the water where a handful of our batchmates were swimming, and they weren’t paying me and Dan much attention. They were, however, giving William the attention—three of Franco’s friends are pulling him and were about to throw him to the swimming pool.
“Franc loves you.”
I choked on my beer when Dan said that. He had to say it when I’m taking a gulp. I turned to look at him, still coughing on the malt that I had inadvertently swallowed. I should have seen it coming after I saw him take a deep breath. “Dan, if you sat here to talk to me about Franco, I suggest you head back to your group where you’d get nicer company,” I said, my voice running cold.
“What happened, Lu? He said he did something terrible to you, something he would understand if you won’t forgive him for it. And that’s all he told me,” he asked, his voice light, giving me the option to not answer his question.
But this is Dan. He is my eternal weakness before. One word from Dan back in high school and I’d gladly do it.
Franco knew that his best friend still is one of my soft spots. He had joked more than once before that he knew that once Dan changed his mind about me and courted me, Franc knows I’d leave him for Dan. That would have been nicer.
“Did Franc put you up to this?” I asked him, my tone non-accusing, and Dan shook his head.
“He’s my best friend, Lui. And you’re… my friend. You guys are important to me. And this—” he motioned his hand around—“this has got to stop—”
I took another swig of the liquid before placing the bottle down on the swing, the sound making Dan stop. My face was hard and I could feel that—plus the tears springing in my eyes. I swallowed the lump in my throat before looking at him, not meaning to glare at him.
“Do you even know the entire story, Dan?”
He stopped in his tracks, and I smirked. “So no, you don’t know anything. Your best friend told you that he and I aren’t fine, just that?” I said in a controlled voice, angry tears escaping the confines of my eyes. Dan nodded, but he already reached out to stop me from standing up. I resisted his touch, standing up, wiping my tears with the back of my hand.
“Did he tell you that—”
I felt AJ grab me and I allowed myself to be enveloped in his arms. I stopped my tears from falling but a sob escaped, and I took a deep breath, composing myself.
“Dan, what’s going—”
It was Franco.
I removed AJ’s arms around me. The music stopped, everyone was silent. All 62 eyes were on me, Dan, AJ, and Franco. I took a deep breath and walked away before I say something I know I’d regret, heading for the restroom.
I had known Franco Martin Concepcion Yuzon for practically half my life. Not that he and I were really close, but he’s always there, looming, popping at random moments, being a friend when I needed one and making me laugh when I needed to. And oh, during NBA Playoffs. He’s this constant companion come playoffs time, for most of the time we root for the same teams, but on occasions when we don’t, he and I have fun bickering.
It was the unusual kind of friendship as he and I were from “different worlds,” but I appreciated his effort to reach out every once in a while.
Later, when we were married, he said he was just waiting for the right moment to court me, to ask me out. Apparently he was so scared—okay, “intimidated” was the word he had used—if he’d be smart enough or even good enough to be my boyfriend.
You see, Franco and I are high school batch mates. Twice in the four years we spent in high school he was my seatmate, and I counted four book reports that I had helped him do. He counts seven drafting plates he had made for me—for there were three subjects I am pretty horrible at: Math, Physical Education, and Drafting. You see, Franco is good at drawing—architecture is his field—while I am good at writing. I am a market researcher by profession, but I do freelance writing on the side.
We count three songs we used to sing together when we’re bored out of our wits—R. Kelly’s Ignition, Tamia’s Officially Missing You, and Parokya ni Edgar’s Silvertoes. I counted two brands of candies we share when our sleepiness is taking the best of us in the middle of a lecture—Mentos and Halls—and he counted 24 weeks of watching me take out a sanitary napkin out of my bag in the six months we’ve been seatmates.
But that’s where he and I unconsciously drew the line.
He was in the “upper world order” of our batch of 87 girls and boys. I was a transferee, so it was partly normal that at the beginning I was an outcast. But just like in every other high school, the ones who are the “smartest,” the ones who excel in academically, are the ones treated… rather differently. Not necessarily as outcasts as there are certain people with extreme personalities who are treated that way, but still treated rather differently. There were a few of us who were accepted—just two, actually, since they were part of the batch I had come into ever since they were in kindergarten.
What do I mean by being treated differently?
Boys like Franco would only approach me when they need help with their Math (coz even if I say I’m doing not so good in that subject, I still fare better than Franco and his boys do) and book reports or when they need to cheat off me during exams. I would welcome every opportunity back then, for it wasn’t everyday that guys like Franco would talk to me. Franco’s friends would normally bully me around and trip on me, and on normal occasions I would stay away from the bad asses on his group.
I just hope the bad asses in their group had stayed away from me though.
Case in point: Carlo.
I still don’t get it what’s Carlo’s issue with me is. Anna said Carlo likes me, but just takes it out by teasing me nonstop because he knows he can’t have me. I told Anna that after all the hell that Carlo had given me—making rumors about me that made some people stay away from me (yes, he was the one who spread the rumor that I stole AJ away from Nina, and the one who said I already slept with AJ—I think Franco can attest to the authenticity of that statement), telling me harsh things like how I look bad in the dress that I wore during prom when everyone said I was dashing (even Franco and AJ), and how when everyone in our batch commends me for winning a school competition he would sulk, say what I did was nothing new, and just ruin my day.
But Franco’s group isn’t all bad guys. There were a couple—those whom I had (a) liked or (b) fallen in love with—that are really nice, those who see past all the geekiness and like you for who you are. And be friends with you not just because you can make their D-grade book report turn into a stellar A-grade paper. Franco was one of them, and there would be Dan, that one whom I sorely liked and loved ever since I was a freshman but only had eyes for me as a friend. And AJ.
He was the one who really broke my heart and my entirety, but then again, it’s another story—a story that Franco doesn’t know and doesn’t need to know.