Claire by the Window

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
Claire, a middle aged woman attends her family's reunion for her youngest sibling's wedding where she reacquaints herself with her siblings and her longtime friend, Emmanuel.

Submitted: February 24, 2017

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Submitted: February 24, 2017

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Claire by the Window

 

 

A mark on her dress occupied most of Claire’s thoughts. In spite of the haste of her packing, the lengthy phone call with her sister Rosemary, and the unpleasant yet unusually friendly discussion she had with her husband on his likely affair, she stood certain that that stain could only have blotted the dress she treasured during the last three days. Panic struck her, if somehow, someone will see and take notice, whether she needs to change or not, and even whether the dress looked fine on her to begin with. She hadn’t brought herself any spare clothes and what’s left are for her kids. But Claire didn’t have any reason to be worried since the reunion wasn’t even for her to begin with. She was merely the maid of honor.

 

***

 

Late spring carried such a fortune of a weather for the occasion, bringing gentle rays of sunshine and warmth the town rarely offers. The whole place ran on its feet. Claire’s youngest sister, Christine, was about to get married. Her sisters were busy adorning the bride while she kept on asking questions about how she looked. Obviously, she received the answers she wanted. She agreed to have the ladies of the siblings to stay in her house while her groom, Mark, let himself get more acquainted with the men since as per tradition, they planned not to see each other in their attires up until the ceremony. It’s true that the siblings felt remorseful for only having met the man three days ago. The one sibling to have known earlier was Rosemary. Every time, she tried to push herself into every one of her siblings’ affairs, not to meddle too much in their lives but to act as a casual addition to her usual greetings; naturally, since they are her siblings. With all the questions she asked, the marriage would’ve certainly slipped in somewhere before the end of their conversation. She saw herself responsible to her parents’ youngest child after their deaths and even now, she had always been true to her words.

 

She called up everyone for the reunion. Edgar, the eldest of the siblings, acted unwillingly at first after being given the offer to host the reunion for he always had the role, but eventually yielded after being forced to admit that he did have the coziest house amongst them. They were, however, a little apprehensive about his wife, June, with them being sure how she’d once again flaunt blatantly their wealth. It wasn’t of any significance, but to them, it was. They were already expecting her to sing her own praises about the fine walls she had fixed for their house, the splendid food they would feast on, perhaps even something they caught themselves on the water, and where the couple acquired the latest expensive wine they were going to drink, which was often from another country. It wasn’t any reason to hate the woman, but it served to make Claire and Rosemary uneasy for the food they kindly brought for them. Claire had her eldest child, Janet, go down the local market for some peaches just a day before the reunion. Mouths craved digging underneath those plump peaches, at least according to Claire. Janet failed to find any, maybe from her lack of determination to find one, so her mother personally left before sunrise just to have those peaches. Rosemary, on the other hand, had two plastic bags worth of crabs she bought down their local market; crabs she only pretended to forget were unhealthy for June. The two sisters have what they call a modest life, but they believed in giving themselves some good food once in a while, especially on occasions like the one they have today. To break the mundane, as they say.

 

An outsider to the family was perhaps, ironically, the most awaited guest. Emmanuel, a longtime close friend of the family, was someone who will never be refused in attending the small wedding. Unfortunately, even if it was understandable that Emmanuel’s wife wouldn’t be able to come, it would have been nice to have Claire and Rosemary’s husbands for the reunion since they are a part of the family, regardless of how distant they may be with the others. Distant was a common adjective for everyone’s relationships.

 

The opening doors of a smiling June heartily welcomed the guests with a peck on the cheek and a fitted embrace they gladly received. Tiles cleaned to spark glinting the two floors, which Claire remembered to remark on, how they revealed reflections for being so spotless. Bright, freshly cut daisies that hanged on the walls greeted them as well as a floral centerpiece standing proudly on the dining table. Edgar and June truly ornamented the house up for a wonderful party, personally preparing platters of delicious food right from their own kitchen. June initially quibbled about not having maids to help in serving the food so she took herself for the responsibility with the decorations for Edgar had the talent in cooking. Her husband moved drearily to his cooking, thinking to himself how to change the monotony of his presentations. A little change in his recipe would probably appease him. Even before the sun rose until the very first guest arrived, their aprons firmly held themselves around the couple’s waists, pulling dirt as hands stayed relentlessly wiped. Their kids gave nothing for help; even their eldest child, Russell, past his college days and now hung up on finding a job couldn’t lend a hand. The two other young boys couldn’t be bothered to let go of their toys, as Edgar liked to call their gadgets.

 

Emmanuel and Rosemary went alone, none of their children nor partners with them. Nobody asked about Emmanuel whereas everyone went curious for Rosemary. She cried out with a bent frown, ostensibly so in an affected manner, how conflicts still ran between her and her children, together with her husband. It was strange of her behavior to purposely ask of the other guests not to peer on her personal life when she goes out of her way on telling as many stories as she could. She took it as a habit while Emmanuel kept to himself. When asked why, his wife lied sick in bed. When asked about news, he said of a prized vacation for the family he had hidden for a surprise. Both statements were certainly dubious. His nose sniffed and searched for the scent of alcohol with the first steps he took inside. To his consternation, he was told to wait.

 

Claire had her luck for all three of her children accompanied her. The rarity of such an occasion, the importance of their dear aunt’s wedding, the chance to wear something of extravagance; everything necessary to convince them, Claire told. It wasn’t because her children complained to be too stubborn to attend; they would definitely come. She was only afraid for her siblings to see how disinterested her kids could be even at the picture of a marriage. They might only be blind of its significance. Janet apparently took the role of the host’s maid as she set everyone’s food on the table, uselessly rearranging them before finally settling for a conversation with Russell. The other two kids, Raymond and Michael, couldn’t be bothered for a nice greeting after going straight on the couch to watch some television with another expected guest who couldn’t be taken away from his phone.

 

Richard got almost removed from the list of guests until he ironically came first. June remarked on how he arrived first even when he lived the farthest. A late flight from a far country, from another continent, almost scraped from a storm in a state of building up, brought him safely to Edgar’s. His mother, Nina, another sibling the others longed to see, withdrew her promise to be present. Only customary questions were asked about her, the others keeping their disappointment from her absence to themselves except for Rosemary. Richard received from her plenty of concerns, mostly about their family and not necessarily about Nina, regardless of how much he’d liked to keep himself on his phone. Strangely, Christine and Mark arrived last even when they were the nearest.

 

***

 

It was perhaps a consequence of the lives they have given for themselves. To be fair, it is impossible for them to put themselves into any position they desired and be able to fare well. But no matter how much scarcity and routine have burdened the course of their lives, the point of being a family still stands. The last time these siblings had been together was far long from being remembered. Sadly, it is a fact that people will drift away from one another eventually; a person is going to have their own life to lead, apart from their parents, apart from their siblings, from their children, and even from their partner. Something that could be construed as inconsiderateness or selfishness could only be the consequence showing itself. Disappointment may always be there, in the face of everything.

 

For Claire, it turned into exaggeration from an insignificant matter, a mark on her dress. On the contrary, a significant matter she absolutely refused to give the slightest thought for the rest of the reunion was a recent woman’s call for her husband, a woman she knew who leeched around her husband at work, a call for a change in his job’s location. Her husband declined the offer himself yet Claire persistently warned him about this woman’s intention to take him away from her. She remembered how worn out he arrived home the day before the reunion, going straight to the sink to wash his face from dirt. A dirt she feared was of infidelity.

 

Another matter on her hands was the said scarcity. She bore with her the heaviness of a request for a significant amount of money, hoping for a kind response from her brother, Edgar. That money would be for the benefit of her children, for the impending tuition fees they feared wouldn’t be paid on time. Yet she remained guilty, the sense of heaviness on her shoulders pulling her down, for she still owes him.

 

In spite of those matters, it was only the stain she thought of at the present.

 

***

 

Emmanuel promised a gift for her, to see with his reuniting with her again, a more charming outfit he had set aside for her youngest child Raymond. It was a tuxedo he hoped would fit for the child. To rummage inside their wardrobes would be hopeless for there was nothing as charming as what Emmanuel gifted to Raymond to wear for the wedding. Claire thanked him but worried for her other children being jealous. Raymond wasn’t even excited as she thought but he curiously behaved. The gift served to set aside the exam the kid apparently should be studying for. He already studied of course since the exam will be held the day after the wedding.

 

“Tell your uncle what you want to be when you grow up.”

 

“I was thinking of being an astronaut after seeing that movie in the channel where they talked about space and stuff. But I guess if I won’t be able to do that, I’ll try to be a pilot of an airplane so at least I’ll be able to touch the skies. I’ll be near outer space. But if I can’t do that either, I’ll probably just end up as a cab driver.”

 

“A cab driver?” Uncle Emmanuel bemusedly asked with a grin.

 

Claire finally gave into Raymond’s request to try on the suit for he’d been asking for it since last week. Together with Emmanuel inside the hosts’ room, Raymond had every button buttoned except for the bottom one, its sleeves hugging his small arms with the shirt untucked to his insistence, before topping it off with a perky bow tie that underlined his squeaky cheeks. To their relief, it was a perfect fit, attractive yet maintaining that childlike quality. Even if it smoothly wrapped his neck, Raymond couldn’t help but be uncomfortable as he kept adjusting an already properly fitted collar. One button out helped ease him. He hopped in circles around the room with his newly polished shoes, his mother telling him to watch his steps to not make a single crease although Emmanuel couldn’t help but smile. He wondered where they’d find a nice flower to set in his pocket. A couple from June’s daisies later, Emmanuel told. A mirror stood before the three, acknowledging their idle stares, their reflections smiling back with gratitude for what they saw. Raymond fought her mother’s disapproval from wearing the suit for the rest of the long night before Emmanuel decidedly let him off the room to show them off. The child couldn’t help but be excited. Claire let him go and left him on his own. The two reunited friends shared the room alone.

 

It was then she put out the dress to hang it within the closet, the only time she had put it out before wearing it, the first time it caught another person’s eyes, not of her husband nor her children but of Emmanuel’s. She spent many days seeking to have that portrayal of her former self, meticulously searching for that particular dress, to give a touch to every fabric she saw that may reconcile herself from that longing for the past. Literally days yet figuratively years. The lightness of its fabric was mesmerizing. He sought with her to lay his hands on its milky strands and discover its softness. Then with a finger, he remembered the youth Claire missed. He asked of her to wear it for him. She declined.

 

Emmanuel’s reflection disappeared to the edge of the bed where he folded Raymond’s clothes while Claire stood still watching herself in the mirror. She stroked the withering underneath her eyes and the wrinkles on her face before noticing how uncombed she had let her hair be. She swiftly searched for a brush. After strands of hair clung along the bristles of the brush, Emmanuel surprised her with a question about her career. That simple question everyone had a tendency to avoid. It has been a long career for her, being tenured as a teacher. Her mind ran for a story to tell before sadly ending up on a familiar one she nearly had gotten tired of. She went on to tell the recent story about a student she unnecessarily harassed, the one she’d been telling her husband constantly for weeks, who perhaps wouldn’t be able to tell the story if she asked him to.

 

“Nick! Move your desk forward immediately. You’re going further and further back there like you’re about to snoop out of the classroom. You’ll reach down south below the valleys in no time!”

 

The kid did move his desk forward. But Claire kept getting unreasonably crossed with the poor child.

 

“Nick Johnson! Move your desk backward immediately. Are you trying to slip in a word with your friend there, right in front of you? You’ll reach up north over the mountains in no time!”

 

Luckily, Raymond was under another teacher or else he would’ve seen his own mother embarrass herself. She won’t be the one to write his exam too. Emmanuel looked amused. She promised herself on taking up other subjects beyond her repertoire just to be able to see other students other than that pesky Nicky Johnson. To get out of her usual routine. In exchange for that pesky usual routine of breaking out of one’s shell. Claire threw that question back at Emmanuel and ask of him the writing he was initially embarrassed on sharing with the others. He’s still embarrassed although he did send her and Edgar a copy of a short story he newly wrote with pride. Both of them hadn’t read a word though Edgar was nice enough to tell the writer he’s halfway through. Writing a novel of a complete realization could never meet the rough schedule Emmanuel had on his life as a vagabond with a job; a job you couldn’t ask of him before changing the minute you ask him of it again. Something great of a motivation ought to push him. Short stories were the only prose he could write. It wouldn’t be a fun recreation if no one ever read them. This short story he sent, he meant it to be a novel.

 

“It is about a mother fraught by poverty who does everything to get her one child through college. The son, however, has no interest in graduating. At least, for the moment. There is another way out of this, he says to his mother. And from there, the story grows.”

 

There was nothing for Claire to say but her encouragements but Emmanuel simply waved his hand back sardonically. She asked of him of the motivation he pursued. It was long gone. He needed to stop, he said. He didn’t know anymore. The momentum for it being already lost a long time ago. Claire looked to build that momentum back when she promised to read his work for him, even offering herself to be his own editor. He would be better off nurturing his talents than letting it rot through words that would never be read. Yet he complained about her time and his own time, a time presently on the search for a job, to his informal confession. There is no need to stop, she said.

 

“There will always be time,” Claire consoled.

 

“Perhaps I went at it the wrong way,” Emmanuel muttered.

 

***

 

The living room was set for a good hour of conversation between the siblings with every piece of furniture set in a circle, chairs fixed beside the sofa with a glowing chandelier on the ceiling to light them, cold bottles of beer standing on coasters with packs of cigarette turning to ashes by the minute, and June offering trays of delicacies to enjoy, fitting herself to be the matron of the whole family for the night, while the kids disappeared with their own little conversations, even the older kids who can definitely talk along well with the adults.

 

Rosemary carried on with her cries after Edgar regrettably became inquisitive about her husband. She looked busy as she watched herself in the mirror, checking to see her weight and the wrinkles on her face until her older brother invited her for a talk. If ever her husband was hiding a mistress again, Edgar gave her his promise to intervene like he did before, back when her husband shamelessly saved his mistress’ panties in his own drawer. Today’s excuse was a plan with his friends for a game of basketball. That aging man’s gut could replace the ball. His friends already dismissed him out of their games for quite some time now so it’d be doubtful for him to pick up a ball again. Nevertheless, it was the excuse he gave. Not even his sister-in-law’s wedding he was willing to attend.

 

It was his 75th birthday. He ought to come. He hasn’t attended his last two birthdays. He sent some wonderful gifts but the presence is always the best gift one can give, an adage handy for those who couldn’t present a nice gift. Claire’s husband couldn’t even remember that his father was already turning 76. He had his luck for the wedding coincided with his father’s birthday. A birthday and also a work where he needed to show his face to. Claire couldn’t help but be upset together with her sister. Edgar told of the fact that there will be always someone missing. But she dreamed for a perfect reunion where every one of her closest relatives showed themselves, all dressed up for a pleasant occasion to celebrate and not purely for the sake of being present, telling of stories away from cynicism and the passing of time but of conquests and new relationships earned. Yet she remained loyal to her husband’s lies. It was his father’s birthday and he had work to do, she remembered to present it as he liked.

 

The men humorously whined about the drama these women untimely acted out, a conversation they thought would be left out for the night. Unfortunately for them, Rosemary insisted for many more stories to be told. To ease them into the next story, June invited them to the dining table and finally brought out that wine she had been dying to show, just like they expected. The couple hauled it from France this time. Although they saved two bottles of this particular wine for their upcoming anniversary, they kindly shared one for the rest of the family.

 

A boy had been knocking on the doors of Rosemary’s family with gifts in the form of baskets of fruits, usually oranges, anything that was circular in shape. Starting this past month though, he had strangely switched to boxes of vitamins, one box for good health like any family should have, and the rest being inexplicably filled with pills, said to be for getting a radiant-looking skin. As much as the family wanted it, they ought to have more of that vitamin for good health. Rosemary couldn’t possibly turn the boy away when they couldn’t even buy themselves these common goods regularly. It’s a nice addition to their ever-empty fridge. The boy traditionally behaved politely while the parents pretended to look strict more than the necessary in their families’ household when it comes to this matter. But Rosemary wanted to be inviting and casual to whoever’s courting her child. Meanwhile, her husband is going to need to see the boy holding himself naked around their child just to get him to react. The boy had been asking their daughter to be his girlfriend but they don’t seem to know how to officially say yes. How could they when their daughter insists on being just friends. However, Emmanuel apprised her in humor how they could already be making out behind their backs. It wasn’t a necessity for him back then, to ask permission from the girl’s parents. If the girl wanted to have sex, her father couldn’t possibly be around to make her tight shut. An echo of laughter from the other siblings he received but only a cruel smirk from Rose. Their daughter would be getting a verbal beating if ever it was true, especially for constantly breaking her mother’s imposed curfew. The boy had been accompanying her through the nights back to her home before slipping out quickly to avoid the parents. But when caught, he always answered with a tight smile. It was easy for her to oppose. It only baffled her mother for she never had that freedom back in her childhood, something she always reminded her children through her stories.

 

One of Claire’s children is already one of those boys. Although he appears shy and always rather quiet on the subject of dating, Michael kept his watch on his phone all night like his cousin Richard to see to it that he promptly replies to the girl at the other end. Claire whispered to her siblings how close of a friend the girl is to her son, saying how she’s not even sure who courted who. She didn’t want Michael to see how she’s been spreading gossip about him. He was the pride of the family. Hopefully one year away from graduating on one of the most prestigious schools in the country. His mother loved to pretend it was from her he inherited his intelligence, when in fact, it was all from his father’s side. His father once sat in that school he was in, some of his uncles and aunts on his father’s side too while the others graduated from the other prestigious schools of the country. Emmanuel gave an offer that made Claire felt withdrawn, to help her son in finding a job after leaving school, for he knew a friend who graduated from the same course as her son did. Yet he persuaded Claire. There wasn’t any good reason to purposely say no anyway. Guilty as she is, she confessed on her ignorance of her children’s plan for the future, even with Janet who was already on her way in finding her career, telling her siblings how children at this age are just usually lost, still on the verge on finding their dreams no matter how much life have been demanding them already. But Michael might have actually found it. A love for film he found. Whether it was truly earnest or not, his mother couldn’t tell. And even if she did, maybe she wouldn’t have acted anyway. But she did give him a chance to act on his love even if it was vague and maybe only momentary. Like she saw herself as the mother of Emmanuel’s story.

Emmanuel spoke to her boys like they were his, saving himself perhaps from opening up like the sisters. A conversation on Michael’s career and an advice on his having a relationship, a playful lecture for Raymond about joining his cousins on spending too much time with their toys instead of playing outside and a caution for him to be careful on that ice cream he’d been munching on, making sure not to spill it over his suit. Nothing for Janet for she had settled too hard on her chat with Russell. Apparently, music held tightly their discussions as they passed to one another a guitar to play. A talk of career would have been what Emmanuel gave.

 

Excited from these conversations about children, Edgar told an unanticipated yet astonishing reveal. Nobody’s pregnant but a new child is expected. He was a bit thrilled to share the news of the planning the couple had. All three of their children are boys so a girl coming to the family would make one of many June’s dreams come true. It’s not too late for her. Even if it is, there’d still be other ways to conceive. Adoption perhaps is the best choice if they want to make sure to have a girl. The siblings chimed in on their opinions for their next child, the gifts they came up with, to which Edgar gladly opened himself up. June, however made stilted of her smiles, happy but doubtful of her right to be, excited but chagrined by the surprising attention, something which she expressed only after the couple was left alone in their room.

 

The mirror watched again a man and a woman as Edgar fitted his wife inside the dress she planned to wear for the wedding. She must’ve given an unusually demanding amount of effort to strain herself as a host that she looked for a time to be alone somewhere in the house yet with the thought of the wedding in her mind. Not the right time to bring the big news out in the open, she half-heartedly complained. Her husband believed that bringing it out will encourage its possibility in happening, therefore making their first tangible action in having a child, making true of their desire to have another one. It only surprised her, not to object but to be grateful for the request she soon came to regret, the request her husband received before with a lukewarm reception. Edgar has actually lost his long-time job, that dear job his life mostly depended on, not only for him but also to his entire family. It was far from his anticipation. It crept on him like this wedding. Money will soon trickle.  It was in vain of her to ask for a child but she didn’t know then. To bring it back, especially now in the open, fraught her with guilt. But Edgar assured her of his acceptance to her request. As they laid languidly in their bed holding each other with tender to the thought of their future, they came to the decision to open the other bottle of wine for celebration, not only for them but also for the rest of the family.

 

“You don’t have to worry too much about what they might be possibly thinking. Are you sad because we now have a huge problem with money? It’s easier to get sad about money if you’re about to lose it instead of not having it in the first place,” Edgar asked of his wife.

 

“I have no right to be sad about money in front of your sisters. I don’t need to be sad just because I’m thinking about money,” June told with pride.

 

The dress fitted her well. June looked stunningly beautiful.

 

***

 

The light strumming of the guitar that rang throughout the house gave the celebration its cheerful air, fragments of melody glimpsing out of Janet and Russell’s playing with the notes waiting to be plucked. If ever they were looking for a show, they need to hurry before the voices start to sing and the legs get up to dance. The family is going to be celebrating through music all night. The two could only talk about music while seating in the corner of the room. Janet thought of bringing hers but shied away for its tangled strings might curl up even harder at the sight of Russell’s newly bought one. Even though he spent plenty of money for that new instrument, he only treated music as a hobby for him. He called playing with his band a hobby, something he probably shouldn’t tell to his band mates. Janet also played guitar in her own band, also occasionally sang even if she usually reserved herself from that position. To her, however, music was a dream on the side. A friend of a friend she knew, someone who works behind a television production served as her inspiration to at least, consider herself in working in music, together with the motivations she received from her friends. She could someday join that friend of a friend. It waited on the side, unfortunately, for her mother believed how she would take over as the breadwinner once she leaves her school. Much to her misfortune, a semester had been repeating for her over and over again, not letting her go until she passed it completely. It sickened her, to know she was going to be taking the same subjects all over again. Only on the first week and already she expected to fail them. But if at any point she does pass, her mother might then consider her music; she thought to calm herself. The future she wanted at her hands. Russell reacted ignorantly to her situation at home, nonchalantly asking her to try to make her way like it was easy to simply let things go that way. Finish your school, he said, spice up your plea with some drama and maybe then, your mother would see it in your eyes. Regardless of her jealousy on her younger brother Michael for his dream being considered, she still recognized how her mother was right. There is no motive enough to ever overcome their need to rise from poverty. For her, music only set aside these concerns.

 

Behind her back, her mother has put her into the conversation. After telling again that story about that student Nick Johnson, Claire told how her daughter knows that she knows how she wants to perform with her band. Her daughter also knew, however, how to lower her expectations, according to Claire. Rosemary bore the same dilemma, though greater, with his son, Alex. Her eldest child, Maria, who was graduating from her school in a year like Michael, however older, is expecting herself to be a nurse afterwards, giving her mother a long due relief from her son. Rosemary quipped how lucky she was for how her children presented her their plans with sincerity unlike Claire’s, but ironically, she despised what she heard. Alex believed his band could be famous someday, with all the fame and money he and his mother could ever want. They are in need of a new drummer though after the last one left to concentrate on his career as a lawyer. He said he’d come back but they knew that wasn’t true. It’s the only thing he could ever think about, not school nor his family who’s pushing him to go back to school. When asked if his dream could ever come true, Rosemary merely blew a raspberry to her contempt. Her sister could only fall to encouragements for her concerns. She’s not a good judge of music, Claire reminded her, but Emmanuel, who actually used to sing in a band and perhaps still is. Yet Rosemary couldn’t be swayed. For her, Alex didn’t care for his family. He acted inconsiderate and selfish, blinded by a dream he could never achieve. From his isolation, he fell back under the influence. Under the influence of what, Emmanuel quickly asked after he coincidentally came back from his talk with Claire’s kids. Along with music, he was also familiar with the topic.

 

Marijuana. Not too severe but who knows what else could he be on. Her husband shouted like a hypocrite, for Rosemary also knew about his doing before, perhaps even more severe, perhaps even now. He had plenty of words to say, only words and not beatings, making his wife smirk, not of pride for him but only for being evoked of the terrible things he did in the past. He wanted to be redeemed. But his wife has turned deaf. The two have long been separated by anger. Rosemary asked Emmanuel of his help for his son to overcome his addiction but in jest, he only feared of falling with him. He only remarked how he missed the feeling of inhaling that smoke, giving Claire an uncomfortable laughter while Edgar held a firm smile opposite the table. June might’ve gotten the same reaction but she kept herself busy serving the children food while already washing the plates even when people still ate.

 

“I told you, Claire, you are lucky with your husband. Compared to me, at least. You too, Emmanuel, you are very nice to your wife. Compared to my husband, of course,” Rosemary praised the two.

Claire could only respond with a surprised grin. Emmanuel answered with gratitude before bursting out with laughter, to which Claire joined. Rosemary did not understand their reaction that she could only join them in their laughter. Edgar simply smiled at the three of them laughing.

 

***

 

The living room offered Claire the chance to be alone with Edgar, with everybody else at the dining table while the children ran across the second floor. It was her chance to present her financial dilemma to him but to her exasperation, Edgar surprised her with his own news. It took a moment of banter between the two on who’s to deliver their news first until Edgar apologized and argued that since she came to him, she deserved to be the one to talk first. She implored to him with insecurity. She told him how long she and her husband have been losing their balance, particularly with Raymond, whose school’s high expenses they’ve now come to regret. Ironic, she realized. She was being paid for the education she paid. Without hesitation, Edgar then admitted of being fired from his job; his response to her news. Claire blushed of humiliation from his surprise, the implication she perceived from his brother, how he might have disliked the times she asked of him for help. It was genuine, she swore to herself. But Edgar comforted her how she never faulted. Like him, his sister reacted with shock. He assumed of himself as someone important to them. But when the need for discharging employees became palpable, one of the first fingers pointed at him. From the long time he has stayed with that company, he believed he found his success from them. But he realized it wasn’t from the amount of time he had spent. It was from the things he did during that time. He contemplated. He didn’t confess to it, but he has also contemplated his marriage. If this is the happiest he could ever get, he imagined what it’d be like if his life seized a different direction. But he knew he felt happy. Nevertheless, he still questioned his success, if it was truly genuine. His sister assured him he had it. Only that little girl could give him peace at that moment.

“Beautiful house, beautiful wife, beautiful kids. Me, I only need the beautiful house now. I’m actually thinking of having my kitchen fixed, it had rusted out of age already,” Claire said to uplift Edgar.

 

“Stability is what I only found. It’s not what I’m looking for,” Edgar said as he let his woe known. “Don’t worry, I can still give you the money, you don’t need to be too concerned.”

 

***

 

Rosemary drew back to her concern with Richard as she caught him alone in the corner, still minding his phone, offering merely fragments of conversation to others. Afraid how his nephew might be feeling left out of the reunion, she sat by his side for a talk he might not be willing to take on. The stiff statements he frequently gave showed how he must be having a difficult time connecting with his relatives. The far country he lived in must’ve been of a stark contrast from where he is now. Yet he knew these people, this country, even for a short while.

 

Two years since his mother Nina’s divorce with his father and still the pain lurked not only to her but to her children as well. The pain followed Richard that everyone’s willful ignorance of the fact served to remind him how far he’d been from the family. Years, spanning even more than a decade, had passed since that man, his father, brought his family out of the country in search for a better life. Now he left the reason he went there in the first place.

 

Nina shared news endlessly, with her younger sister Rosemary always being the first to reach the stories she told about her husband. Rosemary remarked how tired she felt on listening to her. Every update of her separation, before, during, and after; all of it, every single detail she caught. But still, above all else, she concerned herself not only of her sibling but especially more for her children. To her fear, the communication ceased not so long ago. It served as her reason to interfere with Richard’s affairs, regardless of how he could get uncomfortable talking about it. Getting Nina out of the house proved difficult to her older children. Her ex-husband visited regularly. He behaved nicely while she behaved invitingly. Their talks often went quiet though contrived, yet no problem ever arose. Everything turned out fine. But when he left, only then did her anger manifested itself. Her children carried the blame, her tantrums and her yelling, forgetting perhaps how she was the one who asked for the separation. If those children caught this separation at an early age, it could have been worse. Good thing they already had the ability to take care of themselves. Rosemary could only criticize her sister’s divorce and advised Richard to never listen. His mother needed some fixing in her brain, she said. Claire caught the two and advised her sister to stay away from the topic of Nina’s divorce.

 

“Their separation went awful. It’s no wonder why it ended up being ugly,” Rosemary said almost coldly.

 

“I didn’t like the way your father behaved during his relationship with your mother anyway. Eventually, he strived to be a better husband but I could just tell that someday, he’d be doing something Nina wouldn’t be able to let her anger pass on. Time would tell,” Claire told her nephew the right of her mother’s decision.

 

The sisters told of their desire to visit Nina someday, to help her out of sadness and bring her back to the country if possible. Richard smiled before responding with his willingness to help.

 

***

Dinner already passed yet the couple to be married were still unseen. They called for being too busy on their wedding plans and that it would take them another hour before they arrive. Still, the reunion held itself even without them.

 

The music couldn’t wait. Even if they secretly wanted to show off, it took plenty of persuading from Janet’s aunts and uncles before she finally gave in, not to play guitar, but to sing, with Russell taking on the strumming for her. She felt nervous but they insisted. The living room was set for their music, with chairs centered on the house for the two while candles stood in between them that June’s little children cheerfully lighted to get that mood of a small acoustic concert. The other guests relaxed to its intimacy, Emmanuel and Claire leaning on the wall as they watched while some laid back on their chairs. The children remarkably stayed well-behaved even without being asked to. Rosemary listened intently as she leaned forward from where she sat. A round of applause before they started. Russell hit the first notes before bringing the rhythm off its feet. After the first couple of bars, Janet’s tender yet shaky voice entered. Everyone kept quiet for the two. There could be heard a certain freedom in Russell’s strumming as he closed his eyes to embrace the rhythm while Janet couldn’t help but look at the faces staring at her, smiling and smiling to try and take her uneasiness away. Her mother proudly smiled at her.

 

And so did the two faces that slowly peeked through the doors. At last, Christine and her fiancée, Mark have finally arrived. Despite their coming, the music went on. To give their respect, they stood still by the door, with heads nodding to greet after seeing them while ears kept their attention to the two playing. A confidence sprang out of Janet, her uneasiness faltered that inspired spontaneity in her singing. The opening melody appeared once again before the song reached its climax, ending afterwards with a soaring yet soft vibrato from Janet followed by shimmering trills on the strings that lasted long after the final notes have been sung. They received another but now a soft round of applause. At first being given to them, then afterwards, to the couple to be married. Praise be for the upcoming marriage.

 

***

 

They remembered to put the happiness into memory. Claire saw to it that this photograph would be printed and placed inside a sturdy gorgeous frame to be hanged on the wall of their living room, overlooking their doorway where it would be the first item visitors would see. The children behaved badly in front of the camera after running in circles around everybody that June needed to hold her kids by their shoulders just to keep them from squirming. Emmanuel, an outsider to the family by technicality, volunteered to be their cameraman. He clicked again and again to the siblings’ wish, asking them after every flash when he could be a part of the picture. The siblings, of course, couldn’t leave him out. Claire would be needing another frame for his photo.

 

The couple repeatedly apologized for their late coming while they simply accepted it over and over again. Mark had a hard time easing his way into the family with his crippling introversion as he stumbled with his words, unfortunately having his desire for a drink to be his first words of the night. Getting through the night confident to be a part of this reunion proved impossible for him. He stuck himself with his formalities more than what courtesy could be defined. His parents couldn’t come and would only be showing up tomorrow for the wedding rehearsal. He and Christine stopped by somewhere for their dinner since they knew they’re arriving late anyway that all they could ask for was a drink. June, of course, saved some wine for the late couple. They had the couple sit at the center of the living room, surrounding them with their questions and greetings, some complaints on their being late but mostly filled of congratulations for their wedding. Christine greeted her siblings back like they only haven’t seen each other for a week, remarking on the changes in their appearance especially of the children, the usual measuring of the inch-by-inch building of their height, a brief mention of her disappointment on her sister Nina’s absence, and of course, the discussion of the plans for tomorrow and the day after that, the day of the wedding. Since the sibling’s parents are currently busy in the afterlife, Rosemary undertook the position of their mother while she appointed Edgar to be their father’s replacement, the one to escort the bride along the aisle. Though the reminder brought tears to Christine. She hid her sorrow through nervous smiles, with Mark keeping his hand on hers while Emmanuel consoled her, lightly telling off Rosemary for that awful note. To spite her being forlorn, she placed the future in the front of her thoughts, standing up to relieve herself from the absence of her parents and embracing instead the presence of her living loved ones, before reaching for the speakers to let her happiness out through singing.

 

Music serenaded the rest of the night. Few hips swayed lightly along the melodies until the beat hammered harder, stirring them to let themselves out completely, dancing like their feet skipped off the ground while their whole bodies jumped. It seemed almost embarrassing to look at. Rosemary shook her hips with such a drunken stupor, even though she never drank enough to make herself be. She only acted drunk to force herself to the mood of the party. A little more sip could’ve taken her out of control. The younger kids ran wildly around the house, their fingers still pressing their toys but occasionally stopped to cheerfully dance behind their aunt Rosemary. The older kids couldn’t be bothered by the music, their businesses unchanged, still talking to their phones and playing with their guitars. They simply could not connect with the adults. Only over the course of one night did a particular joy came out from June and Edgar. After reaching the decision to have another child, a new light shone from their faces. They absolutely owned the house with their singing and dancing, leading the others to the rhythm of their movements. Claire simply sat at the end of the sofa nibbling at the rest of the peanuts June served while on the other end sat the married couple to be, whispering into each other’s ears to hear themselves from the loud music, giggling with their teeth like no one could see them. Claire promised to have the microphone before the end of the night but muttered to be feeling too listless to do so. She wondered where Emmanuel has gone.

 

The bright peaches she worked hard on getting stayed untouched on top of the dining table throughout the night, much to her disappointment. She picked herself one, asking the others for a bite though only getting rejected. She decided to eat it with Emmanuel, who she found sitting alone outside in the dark indulging on that bottle of alcohol he’d been anticipating to drink. With another chair, Claire sat beside him.

 

“Are you okay?” Claire asked.

 

“I’m fine. I just don’t like the sound of your brother’s voice. I needed to get out before I lose my mind,” Emmanuel gave her a laugh.

 

“Will you sing?”

 

“Only if you sing.”

 

Emmanuel reluctantly tasted the peach Claire carried on asking him to try. To his surprise, it tasted good, really good. Let the others regret not having a taste, they said. He made sure to bring himself plenty of those peaches back home.

 

Claire already asked about his wife earlier but she felt the need to ask again now that they’re alone. As if she was expecting, Emmanuel’s statement that his wife stayed home to get well proved in fact to be false.

“What’s the problem?” Claire asked.

 

“Me,” Emmanuel whispered in guilt.

 

“Well, that can’t be true.”

 

“No, believe me, it is.”

 

“I can’t see it in you. Perhaps it’s the both of you, who are at fault,” Claire said to comfort him.

 

Baring himself, Emmanuel let his guilt be known yet vaguely expected to gain himself some sympathy and be told how much he only put himself down. Hearing how affectionate he sound, Claire granted him the sympathy he grieved for, remembering how she wept too of his partner earlier although not getting the same gesture of comfort. It didn’t matter to her. Because of his contempt, he turned the blame to his wife. Without an effort for any reason, he took it out on her, her doubts on his loyalty, to her and their marriage, exaggerating the fact and using it as a reason for his difficulty in getting her trust. She scorned, he said, on his desire for women, how he used to be outspoken of his love for them, even after he vowed on his lack of interest towards infidelity. His silence about his life with his wife, whether something happened to garner this kind of confession caused Claire to be curious yet she refused to be intrusive of their lives. All she did was listen.

 

“Does she follow you all around? Memorizing your every move, your time? When your normal schedule breaks, does she throw to you plenty of questions? Just like me with my husband, I guess,” Claire shared his side.

 

“It’s her fault if I find somebody new. Leaving me alone in a wedding. I might find somebody else, a young woman, maybe way younger than me; a beautiful lady wearing a white dress, possibly going to be one of Christine’s bridesmaid,” Emmanuel joked.

 

He mused on the reasons. His fear of the consequences from routine perhaps. Or maybe his lack of enthusiasm on what he owned he was too feeble to admit. It’d be hypocritical of him, he mused, to lay blame on others, on the environment he lived in, on all the factors he could possibly pull that he believed had a hold on his life.  He even envied Claire on her job as a teacher, to which she reacted with a bewildered smile. While Claire desperately needed some new stories to tell from her job, Emmanuel, on the other hand, longed to rest from his tiring search for a stable job. Being with kids appeared to him to be a very nice thing to have. Although she said it depended on their age, something she had luck on. Together with his words, he spilled out his drink. He stood up to raise his empty bottle before taking a vow, with great pride and eagerness, to never drink alcohol ever again. Claire merely laughed to the innocence she rarely saw from him.

 

“You told yourself that you’ll only be here for a while. But it lasted longer and longer until you couldn’t get out anymore.”

 

“I told you; you should write again. I’ll be here to read it for you. How are the mother and her child? Will he be able to continue his studies?”

 

***

 

At last, Claire had the microphone. She guided the music to its flight for the evening, singing lyrics not only with her voice but also through her face as it twisted into expressions of dramatic yet humorous, not mindful of being lost within the song, drunkenly phrasing words after her drink with Emmanuel, authentic and unabashed. Sharing the song, Edgar had himself his own microphone, backing up her high pitch with his lower to counterpoint for a joyous duet. Although it might sound awful to their neighbors who might be trying to get some sleep on that night, their glee in pouring out notes gave life to an otherwise cacophonous performance. Rose even mouthed the words at the back, swaying her hips wide while the children danced merrily behind her. Nevertheless, they worked hard to steer that melody into the right direction. Those microphones caught the hands of so many singers throughout the song. Before the chorus entered, Edgar passed his to Emmanuel. He sat his bum deep into that sofa. It took the encouragement of everybody, who guilted him for his past experience in singing for a band, to get him to stand up. With a silent obedience, he rid himself of apathy. Rarely does someone call a man’s voice beautiful, but his definitely deserved the praise. The chorus struck a sentimental note, the two friends sharing the melody while staring into each other’s eyes to keep up with the melodramatic performance Claire started. Their voices filled up with grace, their tone strong and clear. A profound calmness settled in, the direction set with the melody confidently flying. The rhythm was found. Although she broke it after giving her microphone to Mark. The groom-to-be anxiously waited for he expected to be asked to sing, already reluctant seeing his soon-to-be siblings-in-law enjoying themselves. Christine pulled him out of his seat. He whispered the lyrics, trembling lightly as he avoided Emmanuel’s eyes. To entertain everyone and help Mark break out of his shell, Emmanuel gave his support and embraced the melodrama, caressing Mark’s colored cheeks while staring deeply into his eyes, his own eyes squinting while wearing a crooked smile, all to everyone’s uproarious laughter. He tiptoed towards him, his hand still on his cheeks, approaching him playfully as if reaching for a kiss. Christine swiftly swooped in between them to snatch the microphone out of Emmanuel’s hand, finally having his future husband for a romantic duet. Together they sang. The chorus came back, and the tone turned once again into something sentimental. The song concluded with the two of them in an embrace and a round of applause from everyone before the evening reached its emotional finale.

 

***

 

Midnight came with an unsettling cold to give, a reason to finally end the evening. Everybody slept in every possible area of the house June could find them warmth. The hosts slept on the sofa while Claire and Rosemary lied on the ground inside comfortably thick futons which Edgar felt reluctant on offering them at first, asking them instead to sleep on the sofa while they on the futons. They insisted. The futons provided a nice and warm place to sleep in, anyway.

 

“I miss you all,” Edgar said as his final message for the night, making his sisters smile.

 

Rose waited before he went away. A guilt in her drove her out of sleep.

 

“I shouldn’t have said that.”

 

“What is it?” Claire asked.

 

“When I told Richard her mother was not right in the head. It was an awful thing to say. She probably just went at it the wrong way,” Rosemary admitted.

 

“Oh, it’s because you’ve been talking non-stop. Don’t worry, that’s not something he would place a grudge on. We’ll earn ourselves some money to see her someday,” Claire said to give her relief.

The thought put Rose to sleep, her eyes closed with a smile on her face. Claire, meanwhile, couldn’t. The weight of her eyes couldn’t outweigh the thoughts in her head. She closed her eyes tightly before opening them out of exhaustion.

 

A stream of smoke came inside. She stood up to find Emmanuel smoking, alone again with his thoughts outside in the dark. She called his attention with a whisper but he couldn’t hear, slowly approaching to not surprise, only full words reached his ears. Surprised by her presence, he quickly threw his cigarette away. It was the children he said, how grown up they all were now.

 

“Did you know my family won a vacation for a trip outside the country?” Emmanuel shared the news, with a smile unbending.

 

“That’s amazing! That’s incredible news. How long since you had this kind of break? In another country too! Oh, why didn’t you tell me earlier? How did your wife react?” Claire shared his excitement.

 

His wife couldn’t get out of the country. He said she felt out of condition. Even his children might even need some persuasion to come, with his eldest son always having his own plans. Claire did not entirely believe yet neither challenge his claim. A wife should be with his husband when he goes out of the country to explore, she could only persuade. His children would surely save some time for a wonderful family vacation, especially somewhere abroad. How often do they even go to these faraway destinations? Who could you even bring with this rare chance besides the people you love the most in your life? His eyes glanced around aimlessly, trying to reach for Claire’s but never succeeding.

 

“How about you?” he whispered.

A brief flash of faint colors illuminated their faces out of fatigue, some taking form of streaks of floating strands, bands running parallel side by side while others in patches of circles, overlapping one another, flickering around the color wheel from shades of primary to secondary. It held them still, provoking their stares to where the colors sprung but the search for its origin sending them nowhere. The lights stretched out of their horizon. For that brief moment, their minds ruminated on nothing, on the unfathomable. Yet once they nearly caught its clarity, it was no longer there.

 

Claire ignored the boldness of his suggestion. She wished to visit Nina but not with this opportunity. He let her bring Raymond, though the invitation merely embarrassed her. She wouldn’t be comfortable having herself with him in this vacation instead of his family. It wouldn’t be right. The air of his voice could not be ignored anymore.

 

“I would prefer it more if you come with me instead,” he claimed.

 

She froze. She stood still, wanting to come back inside, simply cutting the conversation and forgetting it ever happened. She insisted on her discomfort but he kept on appealing for her acceptance. The height of their emotions couldn’t be heard from their voices, keeping quiet and calm as to not wake anyone up. Why she and not his wife? A name never uttered the entire evening, only being addressed as his wife. Her husband, a name never uttered either, only addressed as her husband. The chance shouldn’t be wasted. The opportunity came only with luck. The time couldn’t be wasted, he argued with absolute resolution. She has decided yet he asked her to keep thinking. She convinced him of the confidence in her decision yet still, he pleaded her to think.

 

“What are we even thinking about?” she asked without looking at him.

“It’s coming in a month. I’ll wait for your answer until the end of the wedding. I’d truly like to bring you out of the country,” he said calmly.

 

“You should be thinking about your family. Believe me, they want to be with you on this trip.”

 

“And how about what I want? It’s not them who I want to be with. It is you, who I want to be with.”

 

Claire incessantly stared at the distance to find those colors again.

 

“I’m not interested.”

 

But she lost in finding them again. She went back inside, still with the burden of her thoughts, leaving him alone in the dark. As if he intended to stay there for the rest of the night, never leaving the darkness.

 

***

 

At a remote little church up the hills the couple worked hard to find did the setting of the marriage was set. A canopy of lush greens settled below the afternoon’s forgiving skies, as branches of oak trees and clumps of clouds overlooked the reception to say goodbye to the past season, birds chirping to a song as they soared high through caressing winds in pattern, completing the image of a perfectly romantic wedding. May the gift of this weather last until tomorrow. Unfortunately for the gift of nature, the couple decided to hold the marriage inside the sanctity of the church, no worries for it kindly offers a similar elegance, with its daintiness suitable for the gathering of a small family, and its quaintness reminiscent of an innocence in matrimony. The wedding veil wrapped Christine’s head to give herself at least a hint of tomorrow’s atmosphere, a bouquet of flowers from June in her hand while below she wore the usual shirt and pants but with high heels to practice walking on it along the aisle. She felt excited but acted nervous, with everyone surrounding her trying to throw a flat remark. The wayward children ran across the long scraped benches to play an unruly game of tag, their mothers racing their eyes around making sure they stayed on their sight. A couple of the two’s closest friends joined them for the rehearsal, who went at odds in fitting in with the family. Mark waited at the doors for his family who mistook the time of their rehearsal. His sister Sally drove their old parents inside her car together with his brother Philip. Apologies for the delay, they said, like the couple did last night. He gallantly escorted them inside.

 

The way Christine turned her head to her future parents-in-law after seeing them showed in an instant how much endearment she spoke about them. With such a wide smile, she brought the two families together to meet, exchanging handshakes and names nobody could possibly remember right away. There came a chorus of greetings. Christine’s siblings met Mark’s, remarking on marriages to keep up with the theme of the occasion, not just of the bride and groom, but also for everyone else. Turns out, Christine and Mark were the last of their families to get married. This marriage ended up to be something more special. Claire met the parents first, George and Ida, to sincerely ask for forgiveness for the abruptness of this marriage, with everybody only meeting now and the wedding coming unexpectedly. The dinner rehearsal for tonight would certainly help them get to know each other, at least for the important details. The parents responded in kindness; they reserved no hard feelings at all. They even proposed to pay for the dinner rehearsal to which Claire shyly rejected. But with their son’s insistence, she let them give their gratitude on hosting tonight’s dinner. A touching display of Mark smiling with his parents revealed to her a sense of what kind of family they had.

 

George requested everyone to take their seats to end the rehearsal early so they’d have more time for the dinner tonight. The couple raised themselves in front of the priest, with Christine unable to remove the excitement from her smile that looked almost awkward while Mark nervously tapped his shoes trying to imitate her expression. His friends teased him on a day he expected jokes to be missing. So he simply joined them on their little fun.

 

“You may all take your seats,” said the priest.

 

He obliged in wit, not until his bride pulled him back to her side. Almost everybody got a laugh. Except for Emmanuel, who couldn’t even give the slightest reaction. The siblings, even though they didn’t let out a laugh as loud as the other family, still achieved in bringing out a titter. Meanwhile, Rosemary’s face faintly curled up out of sadness, a tear she forced in dropping. Claire asked her what was wrong in an irritated yet alarmed manner. A moment to wipe her tears, before telling her she wept… from the fact of how old they’ve gotten. Rose gave her a chuckle. To see their youngest sibling get married without the presence of their parents, it sure let them see how long they’ve lived. Mark, still looking anxious being on the stage, kissed his bride on the cheek to show his feelings. Christine gave it back while holding his hand tight. But despite the display of romance, the sight soon swayed Emmanuel to get some air outside, stepping quietly on the side to avoid disturbing the peace of a mere rehearsal. Claire followed him out of concern, still remembering the conversation she had with him last night.

 

Emmanuel blew puffs of smokes with his cigarette while languidly leaning on the side of the church. Claire drew towards him thinking what to say, what she wanted to say or what he wanted to hear. He saw her nearing him from the side of his vision but denied himself in seeing the entirety of her. Once she reached him, waiting beside him for his acknowledgment, she stared at his smoking while he merely ignored her watch before finally throwing his smoke away, putting out its spark with his shoe.

 

“There’s no vacation, isn’t it?” Claire disappointedly asked.

 

Emmanuel finally lifted his heavy eyes to see her, giving her a smirk to confirm her disappointment. Where would he bring her then? Did he even have the money to take her away? Would he even get the response he looked forward to? He asked her if it was insanity. The feeling of being lost was only natural, she convinced him. He had nothing to be worried about. Getting old comes with the desire to return to the past. Yet Emmanuel could see past her unwillingness to answer. He questioned if she received the message he intended to give. Oh, she truly received it. But she couldn’t answer. Better for her to have doubts, Emmanuel thought, instead of being outright denied like last night. Now it meant she considered. He promised nothing; no vacation to another country, anything. Nothing. He thought if she ever considered, she would help him, if she truly wanted the same.

 

“Why me, Emmanuel?” Claire asked.

 

“Why not you?” Emmanuel asked back.

 

“Why me? Was our relationship really that special to you?”

 

“We were great together, weren’t we? We were happy.”

 

“But I don’t understand.”

Their past relationship could give the explanation Claire sought but there’s nothing more for her to understand. The love has forsaken itself together with the past, forgotten and ignored for the sake of their friendship, something they earned and ought to maintain. Not even a speck of that love persisted, she believed. Emmanuel didn’t know what to say before blurting out the least expected.

 

“I don’t love you.”

 

A moment of pause followed out of confusion.

 

“I don’t know. It’s just that, it’s you who I want to start a new life with.”

 

“What new life?”

 

“A new family, new home, new life. A new outlook on life.”

 

“Why don’t you try it with your wife?”

 

“Why don’t you try it with your husband?”

 

Taunting to lay bare the other’s desire, the two devolved the conversation into subtly shaming each other; Claire politely shaming him of his callousness while doubting the truth of his repression, something he humbly admitted, something he tried to draw out of Claire, more outward in accusing her of pointlessly devoting herself to the life she had regrettably built, for the desire she veiled. All being their mere perception of the other. She suppressed all emotions. She had nothing to try, she said with a cluelessness feigned. While Emmanuel pushed her to confess the feelings he presumed of her, her wanting more than what she had now, she kept being adamant, insisting how she didn’t understand his motive. She solemnly asked him to go back inside with her, to forget the talk and never speak of it again.

 

Emmanuel straightened himself before giving off a serious look in his eyes. He held Claire by her hands, shaking them profusely to ease the tremble he himself had, caressing her arms to persuade her to feel the same. She remained fixed on her ground, her arms paralyzed, her eyes staring far behind from where Emmanuel stood.

 

“I’ll be waiting for you at the back of the church after the wedding. If you’ll show yourself, even without saying anything, I’ll know you’ve accepted my offer. If you won’t come, I’ll visit you the next day in your school. I’ll look for Raymond himself and ask him, if he wants to leave the country to go and see places… together with you and me,” Emmanuel proposed.

 

“Suppose I never come… what will you do then?”

 

“I’m thinking of continuing my writing. Maybe I’ll find my future there, like you said.”

 

“That would be better. You do that, okay? Promise me you’ll do that.”

He did not respond.

“Look, we should go back inside now,” Claire said.

 

Laughter echoed from the church with the happiness everybody appeared to have inside. The scene of the two former lovers coming together at the side of the church would’ve shared with the couple to be married another fortune of love, another fate to be spelled out; that picturesque scene of two little people leaning against a landscape painted by church walls with its borders embellished by the leaves of nature. Yet the tryst missing of romance the two came upon impulsively broke their relationship almost the instant it happened, merely a clouded notion of an optimistic future facing them after loneliness sunk upon them. The scene did not encourage any semblance of joy. Claire returned first with the thought of her decision to his proposal, her face winding from the pressure, waiting for the sounds of his footsteps to follow. After another cigarette he impassively smoked, Emmanuel followed her silently, erasing any expression that might arouse suspicion as he confidently went back to his seat without the thought of what just happened.

 

***

 

The day of the wedding soon came. Yesterday did share its gift of an afternoon for today. June provided the house for the men of the wedding while Christine had her sisters in her house. Rose and Claire assisted in getting the bride ready while keeping her away from any phone. She’d been meaning to hear her future husband’s voice but her sisters convinced her how it would ruin the momentum. The whole place ran on its feet. Another role the sisters performed was getting Christine ready for the ceremony, mentally, to comfort her from anxiety, especially with her dress she’d been asking for their opinion of. She carefully picked it, out of perhaps, hundreds of stores. Yet at the day of the wedding, she still questioned her choice.

 

The night before lingered for Claire. Every minute stretched longer that every second lasted in her mind, making sure to count every increment of time. Her heart went blur from the possibilities. The question simply asked of either a yes or no but she concealed the answer she did not know, below the depths of her reflection. Her eyes blinked at a slower rate yet steady, almost eerie in its stillness, right until she fell asleep. The withering under them rose from her face the day after, more so when she saw the stain in her dress.

 

A mark on her dress occupied most of Claire’s thoughts. A somewhat panic overwhelmed her. She deprived herself of any other thought. She remained wondering where the stain came from, if somehow, someone will see and take notice, whether she needs to change or not, and even whether the dress looked fine on her to begin with. It would be insensitive to ask the others of their opinion on her dress when the bride has been incessantly asking of theirs for hers. She was merely the maid of honor. Trying to hide her worry, she quietly rummaged every part of the house she knew nothing of, for a chemical, or something, anything that could rid her dress of that glaring mark. A dot for the dot, to make sure she doesn’t make it worse. She had no spare if ever she ruins her clothes. Carefully, she rubbed on the material every possible substance she thought could help. The frustration nearly sent her to tears. Nothing worked. How could this happen? When did she ever let this dress be out in the open?

 

She remembered. She crumbled. The realization made her fell. The mark of his fingers might still be present. Her dress did evoke to him the past. The memories of yesterday soon came flooding, defeating her promise to forget what happened. The obvious couldn’t be ignored but she kept on trying. Forget it, she thought. Face what’s in front of you right now. She got up and came back in the room where Christine sat alone. Rose went outside to get some news back on Edgar’s home. Exhausted, she sat to look at the photos of the reunion, looking over them with a pleasant silence, to study every face on each photo. The faces of the bride and groom held close her attention. Right in front of her was Christine fixing her hair, smiling at herself in the mirror through every brush. She glanced at the photo then back to her face, then back to the photo again. She realized then, how distant Mark was to her. She passed her anxiety to her sister.

 

“How long have you been together with Mark?” Claire asked while hiding her concern.

 

Two years. Two years to court each other, two years to build a friendship, to build a romantic relationship, to fall in love, to make love, to get engage, then finally, to get married. Was it enough? Claire mulled for concern. Christine felt embarrassed after admitting how she was the one who kneeled to him and not the other way around. Claire assured her of its insignificance; whether you are a man or a woman, you have the freedom to profess your love. But her face expressed of apprehension Christine couldn’t disregard.

 

“I’m just regretting how we basically don’t know him at all, this man you are about to get married to. This Mark we know nothing about,” Claire clarified without putting any fault on her.

 

She wanted to hear stories about him; stories on his life, his hobbies, his personality, his predilections, his love for her sister, the adventures they’ve had up to this day, where they met in the first place, anything to keep her mind off her own story.

 

“How long have you been engaged?”

 

Three months. Three months to satisfy themselves of their right to marry, three months before the siblings get to meet Mark, to prepare for the wedding, to receive the approval of each other’s family, to pick the perfect place to tie the knot. Was it enough? Claire kept mulling. Christine asked her to stay calm and not make a fuss before confiding to her a secret she didn’t wish in sharing with others, especially Rosemary. She knew how difficult she could be when it comes to trust. She caught the time while Rose was absent. Her tone turned serious after dropping everything she had in her hands.

 

“I’m pregnant.”

 

Claire did not make a fuss but she couldn’t stay calm. She labored her way to a smile from the ghastly expression she unconsciously gave. Christine willed her way into staying silent, settling on her plan to tell the news only after the baby starts showing. Few more weeks and those signs would soon be apparent. She didn’t intend to shock her family but at the very least, keep the news hidden until after the wedding. The fear of being judged; that she only married this man because she’d been impregnated by him, frightened her away from sharing the baby. Her secret was safe. Claire promised her she’d be silent. She only wished to hear more stories, as a maid of honor should do.

 

“He told me he wanted to play basketball before, to be in a team. The problem is, he’s never been the athletic type. I mean, you can easily see that from his build. So he concentrated on his studies while he had basketball as his hobby on the side,” Christine told of Mark.

 

“What else? How did you guys meet?”

 

“Uhm, we met each other on the company we work in. He told me how long he’d been watching me. We’ve been friends before so it was difficult for him to propose anything. What’s funny though is that, he said, he asked me out because… nothing, he just thought one day, what would I think if he asked me out. So then, he asked me if I wanted to go out for some dinner. I laughed, but nervously, because I thought to myself, at last, he asked me out.”

 

“What else?”

 

She cast her eyes at and held tightly those yesterday’s photos. Christine worriedly glanced at her sister who spoke like she didn’t know the words coming out of her mouth. She went on to tell more.

 

“He’s one of those people who is too worried about their lives. In some ways, we’re the same anyway. We’ve reached our 30s and we’ve already been caught by the big questions of life. So it was to his joy, and my joy, when we met each other. Not only as friends; which is what we were at first. He’s sweet. Very sweet. Thoughtful.”

 

“Does he say ‘I love you’ to you?” Claire inquired in a lighthearted manner.

 

Christine put down her brush before touching the softness she made of her hair.

 

“He’s shy. So I’m always the one who says it before him. If I tell him ‘I love you’, he’ll say ‘I love you, too’. But never the other way around. He’s really shy when it comes to those things.”

 

Claire placed the photos aside then stood behind Christine, holding her by the shoulders. They caught a clear glimpse of the reflection like it was one of the photos. Their reflections smiled back of gratitude, although unclear. They spoke but only to the mirror.

 

“How do I look?” Christine asked.

 

“You are just like what I was before.”

 

***

The old bell began the ceremony with a mere, muted ring that reverberated only to those who meant to hear it. The notion of ever renovating it from the rust it had built had been forgotten to carry its history up to the present time. Someday, the bell would give up and its voice be utterly unheard. But today, it still stands for Christine and Mark to celebrate their history inside the lone church.

 

Shining white tulips adorned all the few rows, knitted together by the thinly silk fabric that draped the entire aisle, strung across the door up to the altar with its length. Outside offered beauty that must someone alter its composition would only diminish its appearance, so all the arrangements were reserved inside. Even if the whole design for the marriage went by in a rush, not simply because for the lack of time but also since they knew there wasn’t plenty they could afford, the family felt contented with the outcome. Matching everything from the ornaments to their attires, to the colors of the season hanged far from their concerns. Rosemary wore clothes she perhaps mixed-and-matched from her messy wardrobe, colors thriving on every garment yet nothing agreed with each other. The bracelets wrapping almost half her arm kept chiming at every movement. Raymond swung of excitement his short legs while wearing Emmanuel’s gift, special compared to his siblings’ attires but glanced with envy to his cousins, who charmed the other guests with their own suits. Petals dropped to the floor with every pluck Raymond took from the flower on his pocket. A stray dog adrift inside sniffed the flowers which everyone ignored except the children, who only kept watching. Bark, howled the dog, forcing Rosemary to stand up and shoo him away. Nonetheless, though devoid of any pattern, the sight formed a sense of symmetry only the family could see. Everything felt in place.

 

Everybody remained still listening to the words of the priest. A certain profoundness possessed everybody to let their eyes and ears be unconscious on the couple. Only Claire and Emmanuel was aware. Without fear of anyone remarking, Emmanuel cast his eyes on the maid of honor. The agony of waiting for her decision sent him to a madness he couldn’t express. Claire knew but persisted on being distant. He let his wanting course through his eyes, in reading her mind, gazing at Claire then to the couple, then back again to Claire yet she remained selfish with her lack of acknowledgement, pretending to adjust her clothes with her hands frail from holding that bouquet. He adjusted his too. For a fleeting moment, he looked down just for a second then back at her. Her face was suddenly affixed towards him, a slight curve from her painted lips, an expression he failed to comprehend. A surge of joy nearly swept him until he realized, she merely greeted her brother, Edgar, with a nod. For a lasting moment, his head bowed to a limp, not raising until the halls reached a silence. He waited for that silence, lonely but still not hopeless. But when he looked up, nobody was longer there.

 

***

 

Emmanuel waited at the back of the church, in accordance with his proposal, a smoke between his lips his teeth desperately sought. Dried leaves rustled along the ground from the hammering of strong winds, providing company to his being alone, while the next season entered before his very eyes. The air of the glowing dusk froze his arms. He cupped his cigarette to save its flame.

 

Someone from the church approached him to politely disapprove of his smoking. The spot where he stood is still a territory of the church, the man said. Initially vexed, Emmanuel argued that he was already outside, beyond their jurisdiction. But for the sake of respect, he indifferently obeyed the man’s demand. He waited on the dry green-less space away from but still at the back of the church, several meters away. He waited there expecting nothing yet impatient for the answer he perhaps, already knew. The flame disappeared. It was the last stick. Exasperated, his pace drew a circle on the ground. He walked around its circumference until a stone hindered his next step. Walking over it, he continued his stride. Until he met that stone again. Staring at it with his eyes squinting, he burst out with a kick that almost tripped him to the ground. Looking around if someone saw him, he quickly composed himself. After accepting the fact how he’d been waiting for nothing, he left, alone and empty. But from his hands that were at once, fleetingly full and now empty, he soon realized the artificiality of his actions, how his vision of the future deformed itself to his command. Joy only flourishes in its sincerity.

 

***

 

Standing in front instead of sitting on the bench, Claire waited for Raymond, hoping for him a good result in his exam. The little kid scampered towards his mother while clutching his bag. Claire cheerfully asked how his test went but all he gave was a grin. Understanding his dislike of exams, she simply smiled back, holding his hand to get ready to return home.

 

Hiding from her child the struggle that convinced her to stay, her feet walked beside him steadily, ahead of them was the exit. The proposal beleaguered the hand holding her child, loosening its grip. A teacher passing by strengthened that pull. To stay or to leave, the question torn her. Hesitation didn’t have any place. Her mind turned blank as her hand untied from her son. Her hand dripped with sweat. Everything back in her home appeared to be sinking farther away. Either it was her or them who’ve been stepping back. She let the teacher, a close friend of hers and Raymond’s, deliver the child back home. They waved goodbyes but as soon as the child turned, the exhaustion crippled her arm, the blank in her mind being written on what seemed a thousand thoughts.

 

Sparking a cigarette, she sat on the bench, ignoring the fact of it being forbidden on the premises, watching from the crowd of children the man she waited for. The name slipped from her as if he being a man was the only significance. Emmanuel. His name is Emmanuel. She saw the children running across the grounds, leaning on the walls amused by their shadows, and some being carried away by their parents. As though she tried to unwind herself from waiting yet knew what her mind wished to reflect on. Lain on the bench, hankering from the tension, she stood up to walk in a circle.

 

The nightfall enveloped that shape in its darkness, the dwindling fire of her smoke giving the only light. Her sight below strewn her steps from the graying floor yet still followed the path she walked on. From her fumbling, a stone raised her attention. Meaningless to her, she stepped over it. Until she met it again. Bothersome but still meaningless, she stepped over it again. From her preoccupation on that stone, she raised her head and saw a place that looked unfamiliar to her. It was terrifying, not the place but the perspective she came upon. Her temptation lasted until almost everyone left, leaving only the people responsible for closing the gates. The tension vanished, persuading her to sit again.

 

Cold from the night, she clasped herself with her smoke. But its light was long gone. She flicked it away. Her face flung to her palms. She concealed herself in agitation, not letting any emotion seep out of her, keeping them trapped like she always did. No one can find out what she felt. Unkempt from expectation, she stood upright to fix herself and hang in her shoulder her bag. She returned to the home she only knew.

 

***

 

None of the lights lit from the window. All the kids were sound asleep. Claire tread lightly inside, afraid that her mask of disappointment is too thin to sustain her act of exhaustion. Right on the door, a light suddenly opened up. Her husband stood on the side menacingly, at least for her.

 

“How are you?” the husband asked.

 

Martin. His name was Martin. Not menacing but soft.

 

“I haven’t even started checking on the exams yet I’m already exhausted. I’m really craving for a vacation.”

 

The couple prepared themselves a late supper to catch up after the last three days. The wedding, of course, was the more interesting topic but Martin dawdled on mild questions, for the purpose of a conversation he sincerely began. How old was Christine? Thirty-three. Was the groom nice? Naturally. Polite, courteous, and caring. How are your siblings? Edgar lost his job. Like they talked about, Claire kindly asked him for help but she kindly returned the money afterwards. Richard came back home to escape the conflict her mother Nina created. Martin asked then responded with an emphasized “mmm”.

 

How’s the wedding?

 

“I loved his parents. Very good people. And even now that they’re old, they’re still very sweet to each other.”

 

Martin ran out of questions.

 

“Rose has a new story again.”

 

“Oh, just like always.”

 

Hoping to say something unconstrained, Claire spoke in a friendly manner despite the weight of her sentence.

 

“Rose told me how I’m so lucky with my husband. You think that’s true?”

 

Martin almost choked from the mawkishness of her query.

 

“Oh, whatever. You’re the only one who can answer that. Don’t ask me,” he replied irritated.

 

“Pfft! Whatever. Is that woman still getting close to you?”

 

“I might have gone at it the wrong way.”

The water gulped and the meal chewed carried the sounds for the rest of the night.

 

***

Under a wet towel, Claire massaged and covered her face like she intended to sleep the night in its warmth. Beside her husband, she laid down carefully under the sheets, so as to not awake him, by the window facing away from him. Something mysteriously bright reflected against the window. It was those lights, more dramatic than before, haunting her. The now blinding lights followed her home. Instead of pulling her out of fatigue, the flashes swooned her to sleep, her eyes blinking slower and slower until languor drained her; dreaming while awake, of that now lucid light past the horizon. The light, where came something sublime, comforted her soul, not by itself, but by her distance from it. She remembered the past three days. She pondered on where the newlyweds were now though more so on where Emmanuel has set his path. She imagined how he’s writing right now a hopeful future for that mother and child.

 

In that bed where she always slept, she returned to the role she faithfully assumed. The flawed virtue she devotedly followed. The fate she merely stumbled upon to shall not listen to any protest. If the new life Emmanuel bestowed upon her served to mend the mistake he surmised from her, then she’ll never find contentment. One must first make a mistake to turn something right. But an everlasting marriage that bore growing children demands a considerable mistake. Nothing entails ending but something entails mending. Unbeknownst to her, his eyes mystifyingly remained open, withholding himself from the window. If he thought the same, she couldn’t possibly know with her silence. The realization that some people are essentially unreachable dreaded her. In spite of the urge that consumed her, of the desperation Emmanuel showered on her, of the chances that tormented her, of the future she envisioned, their circumstances did not permit anyone to elope. Everything descended to silence. But at least he left his mark on her. Until her regrets washed it away.


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