Chapter Six

I was about to close my eyes when the door swung open again. To my surprise, it was Eris. She was carrying a large paper bag in her right hand. When I looked at her, she hurried to me and lightly wrapped me in her arms.

“Kuya! Thank god. You’re finally awake.” Eris hugged me like I’ve been away for so long. I didn’t say anything while we stayed like that for a minute. She still didn’t let go even when she started crying, sobbing. I gasped, searching for the right words to calm her down.

“Stop crying Eris. I’m not dead yet,” I joked, faking a laugh.

Eris released me, her eyes were red and watery. “How can you still laugh, kuya? You don’t deserve this.” She stared directly at my eyes as tears continued to roll down her cheeks. “It’s not your fault. I can’t understand how dad can do this to you. I know he’s always been mean to you but I didn’t realize that he can hurt you like this,” she cried out, her lips shaking.

Everything came back to me. No words could explain the pain as they continued to replay in my head. I wanted to cry, I wanted to seek help and I wanted answers why I had to experience those things but I couldn’t. I had to be strong for my mom, for my sister.

I turned away and stayed silent.

“Mom woke up yesterday. She was searching for you. I wanted to tell her about what happened but dad stopped me. I know, she’ll do something if she knew,” she paused and took a deep breath. “No, I think I should have called the police yesterday. Dad shouldn’t get away with what he’s done.”

“No,” I said in a hard voice. “You won’t tell mom or the police. Dad was just really frustrated about what happened. Besides, if mom knows about this, she’ll worry and overthink it. You know that we can’t let that happen.”

“But kuya, dad almost killed you. He almost killed you.”

I sat and leaned my back against the bed. I held Eris’ hand and looked directly at her eyes but she looked away. “Eris, look at me,” I urged but she refused to. I slowly moved my right hand to her cheeks and turned her head to me. “Look at me.”

She finally gave up and met my eyes, “We can’t tell anyone about this, especially mom, okay?”

“I don’t understand. Can’t we even tell kuya Allen?”

“No. Definitely not, okay? You don’t have to worry about me, just take care of yourself.”

To my surprise, Eris started crying again. “I don’t understand kuya. Why do you have to suffer like this? Why can’t we tell mom or kuya Allen? We’re a family, can’t we help you out?”

I hugged her and let her cry on my shoulder. “Someday, Eris, you’ll understand that some things are meant not to be spoken or shared,” I whispered.

Eris continued to cry for a while which made it hard for me to maintain my composure. Her sobs tempted me to cry with her, to share my tears with her but I did my best to resist the urge. I could only wrap my arms around her, telling her that everything would be okay though it seemed that those words were meant for me. ‘You have to be strong, Ian, you have to,’ I keep telling myself.

“I’m sorry, kuya. I was such a crybaby,” Eris said as she rubbed her eyes.

“No, I’m the one who’s sorry.” My lips curved into a half-smile. “Sorry but you have to bear with it.”

She shook her head. “No, kuya,” she said, stretching her hand toward the chair that she absently knocked when she hurried to hug me. She sat there and held my hand. “You’re the one who’s suffering yet you still think the best for mom. You’re too kind, kuya, always kinder than anyone.” Her eyes were watery again. I wiped them with my other hand.

“You’re exaggerating,” I joked, laughing at how angelic Eris might have thought of me. “I’m not a saint, you know.”

Eris pinched my cheeks lightly and laughed, “Yeah, you’re not. But I can guess, you’re qualified to be one. You’re not just kind.” She rolled her eyes. “You’re stupidly kind, a martyr.”

Only allowed on

I jokingly glared, “How could that be? I don’t remember being one.”

Eris raised one of her brows and shook her head. “Kuya, sometimes let me check your head, okay?” She sighed, her eyes filled with disbelief. “Remember when we were kids, when one of our neighbor’s dogs chased us, still remember that?”

I shook my head politely, like a kid under interrogation.

“What do you think you do?”

“I ran, obviously,” I said, laughing at my joke.

She glared which interrupted my snickers. “You didn’t, because I tripped at that time. You tried to cover for me while crying.” She started to laugh. “I could still remember how you picked up a small stick and thought of it like a sword that can save us.”

I stared at her in disbelief.

“You don’t believe me?” She raised the sleeve in my right arm and traced my skin barely below my shoulders. “Look,” she said, pointing to two small, almost invisible scars.

Eris lowered the sleeve, “You got bitten because of me.” She sighed. “When dad asked why the dog chased us, you said that it was because you provoked it. Even though I was the one who did. You willingly received his punishment for me.”

“I did that?” I asked with so much doubt in my voice.

She nodded, “The same happened when I accidentally broke mom’s vase or when I burned kuya Allen’s clothes because he wouldn’t let me play outside, you always took responsibility for me.”

Surprise left my mouth slightly open. I kept asking myself how I could forget those memories that should have been in my retrospection, even though the answer was already there. They remained trivial against those things that I was so desperate to forget, to run away from. I laughed discreetly at the thought. It was too ironic.

“Anyway, kuya, you must be starving.” Eris picked up the paper bag on the floor and put it on the table beside the bed. “I prepared adobo and tinola,” she said as she ran her hands inside.

Her gaze flicked to me, then back to the paper bag. “I especially cooked this in case you wake up today.” She rotated a portable table underneath the bed and decked three stainless cylindrical containers.

When I removed the cover, the aroma of chicken adobo leaked in the air, inviting me to dig in. I beamed. “Thank you Eris, this is just like mom’s.”

She returned it. “Of course, who do you think I am? Eris Reyes. Future chef,” she said as she raised her hands sideward and gently bowed.

I laughed at her and took a spoonful of food in my mouth.

“This is good, I can see your future ahead.” I drum-rolled the spoon and fork in the cover of the container. “Karinderya Vendor,” I said laughingly as I sucked another spoonful of rice.

She gave me a deadly look. “Don’t talk when your mouth is full.”

I laughed and continued to tease her as I ate. After finishing my meal, the door suddenly swung open. I turned and Eris followed my gaze. Yeren entered the room, holding a plastic bag in his left hand.

Eris looked back at me. She beamed an earful grin while biting her lower lip. “I never thought you had such a very good-looking friend,” she said in a very low voice. “Do you think I’m his type?”

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I flicked her forehead. “Stop daydreaming, Eris. You’re only fourteen.”

“But kuya,” she peeked at Yeren who’s closing the door. “He’s not just handsome but very kind too. If not because of him, something worse may have happened to you. And…” She took another glance at him. “He even volunteered to look after you last night.”

“What?” I uttered in surprise. When I looked at Yeren, he was only two meters away which forced us to withdraw from the conversation.

Eris stood up and pulled the paper bag from the table. “Gotta go kuya. I’m sure mom is already looking for me.” She smiled at Yeren and bowed her head a bit.

“Thank you for looking after my brother.” She heaved a sigh and curved her lips halfway. “Sorry about the trouble but I can’t ask anyone.”

Yeren nodded, “Nah, don’t mention it.”

Eris smiled once more and rushed to the door before I could say anything.

“You must be close to your sister,” Yeren commented.

I nodded. “Well, we’ve always been close…” I took a sudden pause, noticing that his hairline and shirt were slightly damp. “What happened? You’re kinda wet.”

Yeren stretched his hand and passed the plastic bag to me. I ran my hands through its contents and the coldness of three ice cream cups surged to my palms.

“There was no ice cream in the canteen so I had to get it in the nearest convenience store,” he paused, stretching his hand to me. I got a cup of rocky road ice cream from the plastic bag and handed it to him. He opened it and took a scoop to his mouth. “Unfortunately, it suddenly rained on my way back,” he said, then took another scoop.

“If there was none in the canteen, you shouldn’t have troubled yourself just to buy me some.”

“Don’t worry, I was craving for one, myself, so I don’t mind.”

“Okay…” I nodded. I got myself a cup of strawberry ice cream from the plastic bag and ate with him.

“It’s weird, we’re eating ice cream when it’s supposed to be raining outside,” I said as we continued to dig in.

“What’s weird?”

“I mean, it’s cold and we’re eating cold food.”

“Nah, does it matter? When you want something, grab it, what matters the most is that you enjoy it.”

“Good point,” I said.

My heart almost leaped from my chest when he suddenly put his right hand on my chin and gently wiped something besides my lower lip with his thumb. I was dumbstruck even more as he licked his thumb. “Strawberry? You should have given me that one. Can you trade with me?”

Words wouldn’t come out of my mouth as my heart pounded. Even though I was looking away, his action shifted all my responses. There was warmth around my mouth even though I just had a scoop of a mouthful of ice cream a moment ago. And the funny thing was, I didn’t know if I was just being too conscious of him or he’s just fully unaware of what he’s done or both.

“Oh!” He exclaimed that I was forced to look back. The back of his hand covered his mouth but I could still see the redness of his cheeks, his eyes avoiding mine.

“Sorry,” Yeren finally said, his eyes still avoiding my gaze.

I couldn’t say anything. Silence enveloped the room for a long time when my strawberry ice cream had already melted. The tension subsided but the both of us refused to break the stillness within the room. I made a flimsy turn and stretched my hand, putting the cup on the table. Yeren did the same. He glanced at me, then slowly sat beside me. I let out a soft chuckle, wondering how long he’s been standing there.

Yeren spun his head and gave me a querying look. I didn’t answer, instead, I just smiled. I pointed to the floor where he previously stood, then pointed at him. I stretched my arms sideward which was kind of funny. It wasn’t clear to me what was so funny about it but I remained giving him hand signals. An earful grin spread across his lips as he shook his head.

I straightened my back and a jolt of spastic pain surged to my muscles. I tried not to let out a sound but failed miserably. The pain was so intense that I closed my eyes and held my waist as I raised my head slightly. I took deep breaths as the pain stayed for a moment before subsiding gradually.

When I opened my eyes, Yeren was staring at me. There was concern behind his eyes but he didn’t say anything. He gave me a questioning look as he made an ‘okay’ sign with his right hand. It was funny that he was still on it so I laughed and nodded.

He didn’t respond, instead, he closed his palms together and placed them on his cheek, tilting his head slightly, then closed his eyes. For some reason, I didn’t find it funny but very charming. My chest pounded as he remained like that for a moment and embarrassment rushed to me when I realized that I giggled.

Yeren opened his eyes and stood up. He gently tapped my shoulder before helping me as I lowered my back and laid on the bed. He pointed to the door and wrote a ‘five’ sign in the air, then pointed to the floor where he stood. To my surprise, he placed his hand on my eyes and guided me to close them.

I opened them again as he stepped away. He looked back and made another ‘five’ sign in the air. I nodded and shut my eyes again as he disappeared behind the door.

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