“What is wrong?”
I woke up with a start, three calls from H waking me up. I picked up on the fourth, and the panic in his voice was almost palpable that I wished I was there with him—he was in Australia this time with the boys, and they will be there for a month and a half. I was going to catch up with them in a week and stay with them for two more weeks before heading back.
“I need you to head to the house in the woods,” he said, his tone very urgent.
I heard some arguing in the background, so much so that it was drowning whatever H was saying. “Shut up—just shut up, okay?” H shouted off the phone. “I’m getting her to check, so calm your asses down.”
I gasped, finally realizing it. “L’s gone,” I whispered, and H heard me. “He is. He wasn’t there when we woke up this morning, and we tried contacting him—”
“Wait, back up. What happened prior to him being gone?”
H let out a long, shaky breath. I could imagine him, ruffling his hair, pacing. If he was nervous enough, he could be biting his nails, which would earn him his stylist’s wrath. “S was here too, in Australia. She’s on tour with P, and L saw them last night. Z said S… was with another guy.”
“Rattled his little cage huh.”
I could hear his smile on the other line. “You could say that.” He sighed heavily. “You have the key, right? Can you please just check if he’s there?”
“Of course,” I said easily. “I’ll bring ice cream and pizza.”
He chuckled. “I love you,” he said with a contented sigh.
“Love you back. Call you when I rescue him.”
I ended the call, and then stood up, wondering if I should bring the same things to comfort a girl when I am comforting a guy through a (recurring) heartbreak.
The door rattled, and I thought it wouldn’t open. It was so, so cold out here in the woods—it was drizzling outside and it’s frigging four in the morning. I let out a “brrrrrr” when I got inside, and I was rubbing my hands together to warm them up. The house was even colder inside—the fire wasn’t on, and it seemed like there was no one here.
I placed the stuff I was bringing on the kitchen countertop—two bags worth of goodies and comfort items—and took a stroll inside the house. It was a very simple place—two bedrooms, one living room, one kitchen, and two baths—but it was homey. You knew that there were so many memories formed in that place, some of them my memories with H.
I went to the first bedroom, smiling a bit at the memory that it was the room H and I stayed in when he first brought me here. It was empty, but the bed was unmade. The bath was empty too. The other bedroom was untouched.
Where is L?
An idea dawned unto me, and I passed by the kitchen on the way out to the backdoor. There was a spot in the backyard which I deeply loved when I first came here, and it was because it was where I got to release all my pent-up emotions. And I’m thinking that’s where L would be too.
True enough, I found him—hacking away at firewood, shirtless, his muscles strained by the effort. The rain slid down his arm, licking his tattoos. His sweat mixed with the rain, and I knew—judging by the way his shoulders were shaking—that he was crying. He grabbed one log, positioned it at the center of the trunk, and then launched the axe in the air and plunged it down, splitting the log cleanly in half.
I didn’t know how long I watched him, but it was long enough for the drizzle to drench my clothes. I could feel the cold seeping into my bones. He was on the last piece of log—already making a pile of it—and he finally looked up and saw me. For a moment I knew he thought I was S, and then he saw me—as in me—and it was probably too much for him. He dropped the ax on the grass, landing in a soft thud. I watched him as he fell on his knees, and just plainly broke down in front of me, piece by piece chipped away by the raindrops.
I approached him, very carefully, as his sobs racked through him. He had his head in his hands, and he was just shaking—both from the cold and his pain. I placed a hand, slowly and gently, on his back, and he didn’t shake it off. I dropped on the ground next to him, pulling his hands away from his face and he resisted.
“L…” I whispered, but he still fought against my touch. I reached down and tried to wrap my arms around him. He wasn’t as strong as I thought he would be, probably because all his energy was being sapped by the log chopping he did and now his sobs. He couldn’t fight anymore when I stayed firm, my arms in a tight grip around him.
I sat on the soft grass and he fell against me, curled like baby in the womb on my lap. “I know it’s not okay,” I whispered, “and it’s fine to say you’re not okay, L. It’s okay to feel bad. Quoting a song, ‘It’s okay not to be okay.’”
He didn’t move or speak, and he just cried. Cried and cried, and we stayed there, until the sun rose and the rain stopped.
I sneezed once more, and L glanced at me apologetically. He had already made the fire and was cooking—“I am only a quarter of a decent cook as H is, so I’m sorry”—what I think was pumpkin soup that he found in one of the cupboards. I wondered silently if that was expired already, but I think someone has been here in the past couple of weeks, someone who could’ve restocked the cupboards.
It was still so cold, that even after having taken long hot showers, I could feel that the cold is still in my bones and wouldn’t go away. L was wrapped in about four layers of clothes plus a blanket over his shoulders, and I was wrapped in a sweatshirt, H’s thick jacket, and a blanket.
I grabbed a tissue from my pile—I thought L would use it for his tears, but apparently I’ll be the one using it for my sniffles—and blew into it. I let it sail in the air and it hit the rim of the trash bin a few feet away from where L was standing.
“Missed it,” he teased, and I just smiled tiredly, not bothering to pick it up from the floor.
“I have to call them you know,” I said instead, and he nodded.
“I know you do. H is probably worried about you too.” He turned away from the stove and went over to where I had piled my things earlier on the kitchen countertop. I didn’t protest when he rummaged through the bags that I brought. He grinned when he saw the ice cream, now melted, and he stored it in the freezer. He noted at the lack of booze in my “comfort pile” but loved it that I have hot chocolate as well.
“Potato chips,” he said, fishing the three bags of it that I was bringing. “You. Are. The. Best,” he said with a wide smile. I just sneezed away as he finished unpacking the first bag, and then he fished my phone from my bag, sliding it across the counter towards my direction.
I pressed speed dial 2, and it didn’t even ring before H picked it up. I placed him on loudspeaker.
“You found him?” he asked, harried.
“Yup. He’s here with me.” I heard a shuffle from his end, and after a few moments, he came back on. “Am on loudspeaker, right?”
H cleared his throat and then said, anger evident in his voice, “L, you stupid git. We were worried sick about you.” L was about to respond when another voice chimed in, probably N, “You chopped all the wood?”
L rolled his eyes, looking exasperated. “I did. Management angry?”
“We handled it.” It was T, always the calm one. “Just get back here in one piece as soon as you can. We said you’re off for two days.”
I stood up and went to the stove, where the pumpkin soup was already spilling over the pot because it was boiling already. I switched it off when I heard Z’s voice. “K!”
“YEAH?” I yelled from where I was. “Work your magic!” he shouted back, and I just grinned, walking back to the kitchen countertop. “I’ll try,” I said, and then H came back on.
“Take care of him,” he said, and then the line went dead. I scooped my phone and just before I threw it into my bag, a message from H came in: There are cold meds in the bathroom cupboard. Love you <3. I didn’t reply, and I discarded my phone into my bag after turning it to silent mode. L slinked away, back to the stove, ladling the soup into two bowls. He brought it back to the table, sliding one of the bowls towards me.
Everything was silent, just the sound of us eating heard in the room.
I gazed at him, waiting for him to explode again.
“We were together for two years.”
I pulled myself out of the depths of my sleep when I heard L speak. We were in the living room, on the couch, seated across each other, our feet touching under the blanket. He was munching on the potato chips while I fell asleep while reading, the colds meds not also helping my cause to stay awake.
“I had to break up with her because everything was getting far too much for her—the fans bullying her online and it was getting to a point where I can see that she’s already breaking. I was also away too much and I couldn’t just give her the time that she deserved. I wasn’t there to support her. It wasn’t enough that I fought for her,” he continued, and I sat up, wiping drool off my chin. He tossed me one of the bags of the potato chips.
“But you still love her.”
He smiled sadly. “I still do,” he admitted. “And last night was a bit of a tipping point for me. It’s been what? Four years since we broke up? I waited for her to come around, you know. Because she said she would find me once she’s ready to face this world.”
I didn’t have to ask what ‘world’ L meant, because I perfectly knew that.
I heard the loud crunch of the potato chips as he stowed a handful of it into his mouth. Somewhere between my falling asleep and waking up, L has managed to buy booze because I watched in a bit of awe as he took a swig from a can of it. “The first few months, I would ask E for updates on S. E says she misses me, but she still isn’t ready. I waited. I think I was comforted by the fact that she wasn’t seeing anyone too. I was thinking she still loves me, you know. That there is still hope for me.”
Crunch, crunch, crunch.
“And then a couple of years back, I started hearing whispers that S is seeing someone. At first I didn’t believe it. I mean—how could I, when I am still hoping against hope that S would come back to me? And then I see here in Aussie. She was with the guy, a guitarist of the P’s band. E told me that they’ve been together for a year now, a bit of a hush hush kind of a relationship because they didn’t want me to know. But the truth is she has been seeing him for two years already. They didn’t want me to know that the woman I’ve been pining for in the past four years has moved on.”
I jumped back as he threw the empty can of the beer into the fireplace, the flames happily eating it. “And then I see you. You and H. You have defied all the odds, you know that? You and E, actually. Girls who aren’t part of this biz, and then you just go on and take everything in head on. You get bullied on Twitter too, right? And there are rumors going on every day that you guys have broken up. Yours is also a bit tougher because hey, let’s admit it, H hasn’t been painted as the most faithful boyfriend by the media. Plus all the shipping going on between him and T.”
I shook my head, leaning over and grabbing a can of beer from his pile, surprising him, but he didn’t comment. I popped the tab off the drink, taking a swig. And then I waited for L to speak again. “I guess it was just maddening, you know? That it worked perfectly for you guys and S couldn’t handle it. I am mad at her for not being able to handle it, even if I have thrown in everything I have just to see her fight. She just wouldn’t.”
I took another swig before replying. “Maybe she’s just not cut out for it,” I said. “You’d have to remember, I also walked out on H once because of that. I couldn’t handle this life.”
L looked at me, confused. “I thought you walked away because you were scared.”
“Yeah. I’d say I was 50% scared, 50% I don’t want the kind of world H was living in.”
He sighed heavily. “But you came back. You’re here, and that’s the point. I gave S the free pass and she made a run for it.”
“Is that all there is, L? I mean, four years is a helluva long time to wait for someone to come around.”
He smirked. “Says the girl who waited for her high school crush for more than a decade,” he countered, and I grabbed a pillow from behind me and lobbed it towards his direction, hitting his bag of potato chips, and it fell on the carpet. He leaned down and picked it up, taking as many chips that fell on the carpet as possible so we’d have less to clean up later.
[If you’re wondering how that relationship history is now known to the rest of the band and their girlfriends, it was tackled in another truth or dare session aided by some booze—at least for them, because I try to stay away from booze as much as I can.]
“But seriously, L?”
L heaved another sigh. “I was wondering how it would feel like being single. Ever since I had my first girlfriend when I was thirteen, I never was… ‘vacant.’” He quoted the last word with his fingers.
“And did you enjoy it?”
He looked up at the ceiling, pondering. “It has its moments. It started feeling a bit bad when the boys started pairing off, and then I was the only one during interviews that has to admit I was single.” He let out a half-hearted laugh. “I started feeling the pressure, if I may say so.”
“But no one’s like S,” I supplied.
He smiled sadly. “No one will ever be like S, much like no one will ever be like you, K,” he replied.
“Aww, I’m touched,” I teased him, drinking the last of my beer. I tossed the can into the fireplace and we watched it melt in silence, our potato chips crunching in our mouth.
“You knew I was gonna break down that first night when we met, did you?” he asked out of the blue. I made a non-committal move with my shoulders. “I was thinking you could be like me. Thinking we’re all fine and okay but we’re just putting up fronts. There is just that one point when we just succumb to the pain and finally let ourselves feel it. That point when we finally own the pain instead of letting it own you. And when that happens, you can’t do it alone. You’ll need someone to pull you through.”
L considered what I was saying, and then he turned to me. “Who was your someone?”
I gave him a wide smile. “I had my friend D and H. For the most part, it was H.”
He exhaled loudly, and then fixed me a serious gaze. “Can you be my someone?” he asked softly. “I know you said we won’t be besties, but—”
I cut him off with a wave of my hand. “L, come on. I think I’m already doing my part in pulling you through. You don’t have to ask.”
He reached over and I felt his hand on my knee, giving it a squeeze. He didn’t say anything more—he just leaned back and enjoyed the remainder of his chips, while I tried to finish mine. I remembered something, finding my phone in my pocket, searched for it, and then found it.
I tossed my phone to him and he caught it just before it hit the hardwood floor, grimacing at his slow reflexes due to the booze. “Press play,” I told him, and he did, and The Script’s voice floated in the room in the middle of our silence.
You read the books, you’ve watched the shows
What’s the best way, no one knows, yeah
Meditate, get hypnotized
Anything to take from your mind
But it won’t go
You’re doing all these things out of desperation
Oh, whoa, you’re going through six degrees of separation
You hit the drink, you take a toke
Watch the past go up in smoke
Fake a smile, yeah, lie and say that
“I’m better now than ever” and your life’s okay
Well, it’s not, no
You’re doing all these things out of desperation
Oh whoa, you’re going through six degrees of separation
First, you think the worst is a broken heart
What’s gonna kill you is the second part
And the third, is when your world splits down the middle
And fourth, you’re gonna think that you’ve fixed yourself
Fifth, you see them out with someone else
And the sixth is when you admit that you may have fucked up a little
(No, no, there ain’t no help, it’s every man for himself)
You tell your friends, yeah, strangers too
Anyone’ll throw an arm around you, yeah
Tarot cards, gems, and stones
Believing all that shit’s gonna heal your soul
Well it’s not, no
You’re doing all these things out of desperation
Oh whoa, you’re going through six degrees of separation
No, there’s no starting over without finding closure
You’d take them back, no hesitation
That’s when you know you’ve reached the sixth degree of separation