Exactly what my friends were doing right now.
"So, what's happening?" My voice sounded too bright and perky in the small room.
"Between now and yesterday?" Meah asked, raising an eyebrow.
I cringed, remembering that I had talked to them yesterday before I boarded my flight back to Manila. But since I had already started, I decided to continue. "How's James?"
Silence descended as soon as I said my ex's name. It felt weird, too, almost like I lost the right to say it. My friends exchanged glances, and I immediately felt bad for subjecting them to all of this discomfort. But they should know I would ask that, or that his name could come up in our conversations, not just because we were in a relationship but also because he was Rain's cousin. At least I brought it up first rather than them skirting around his name, right?
Meah reached out to touch my arm. "We don't have to talk about him if it's weird for you, Faith."
"No!" My voice went up an octave higher, and everyone shifted uneasily. I took a deep breath and backtracked. "I mean...it's not weird. It's okay. I just want to know how he is."
They exchanged looks again and was quiet until Rain let out an almost imperceptible sigh. She looked at me, her expression gentle. "James is fine. Don't worry about him," she said. "You're more important. How are you?"
"I'm fine," I repeated. "I'm okay, really."
Meah crossed her arms, and one of her eyebrows slowly went up. I knew that look. Rain called it Meah's "shrink face"—the one we joked that she wore all day, working as a therapist. She was good at her job, thanks to her uncanny ability of reading facial expressions, tones, and body language. Rain was usually the recipient of this look, and now I realized how uncomfortable it was to be under Meah's scrutiny.
"Did you cut your hair?" Meah asked.
I shook my head, my ponytail swishing behind me. "I didn't have time."
"Well...did you do something for yourself there? Shop? Get a tattoo? Jump off a cliff?"
Rain whispered something to Mark. They both leaned back, amused expressions on their faces.
"No, no, and no. Who had the time to do that there?" I rolled my eyes. "And why are you asking?"
"Don't you know the rules of what people do after a breakup? You have to have your hair cut, at least. Or do something completely radical because you need a change."
I chuckled despite myself, and that sting I felt from Meah's pointed questions faded. "How cliché is that? I don't want to be one of those girls who can't move on from her ex-boyfriend."
Meah stared at me then finally sighed. Her expression softened and her tone relaxed, more of a friend now, less of a shrink. "How are you, really, Faith?"
"I'm fine," I reiterated for the nth time that day. "I just wish I could talk to him, so I could clear the air and stuff."
"And then?" she scoffed. "Whatever he says won't make him less of a jerk for breaking up with you like that."
"Meah," I warned, glancing at Rain. Her cheeks had turned red as she chewed her bottom lip. She saw me glance at her so she tried to hide her face on Mark's shoulder. Since the breakup, she hadn't commented on her cousin's behavior. Meah, on the other hand, had been far less forgiving. She was so angry at James that it was as if he had broken up with her. I appreciated her empathy, but I thought it was a little too much and unnecessary. I wasn't even angry at James. I still had questions, but at least he had the decency not to breakup with me over text. Or cheat on me.
"I just want closure, okay," I said. "Is that so bad?"
"But what is closure for you? What will you do after you find out?"
"I don't know." I sighed. "I haven't thought that far enough yet. I don't know how to do this, Meah. We were together for five, almost six years. He's my first true love. What do I know about breakups?"
"Well what do I know about relationships?" she retorted good-naturedly, and then laughed the comment off but not before I caught a hint of sadness in her eyes. Rain and I exchanged glances, her brows furrowed with concern. It hit me that for all the conversations we've had with Meah about our love lives, she hardly talked about hers. We knew there was this one guy in her past that she didn't like talking about, but that was it. When was the last time she had been out on a date?
"But that's why I'm a shrink," Meah continued, her tone bright and cheery again. "And my professional advice to you, Faith, free of charge, is first, to purge. Get rid of the James stuff you still have. Especially this jacket." She picked up said jacket that was draped on the side of the couch.
"What? I like this jacket," I said, taking it from her. I ran my hand over the embroidered letters on its sleeve.
"It has the date of your anniversary and your initials," she replied drily.
It was a dark green, custom-made jacket that James gave me for our first year together. It looked like our alma mater's jacket, but instead of the school logo, it had our initials and the date we became official. My friends thought it was terribly cheesy, but I thought it was sweet of James to come up with this. He was good at that, random little gifts and surprises, that's why my room and my apartment were littered with things that he had given me in the last five years. The jacket was my favorite since I got cold easily. I had worn the jacket so many times that it was a little faded and frayed in some parts but it was comfortable and still kept me warm, and I didn't have any other jacket to replace it.
I didn't want to replace it.
"Meah, quit it," Rain finally said. She leaned her elbows on the table, her eyes imploring. "Let's believe Faith, okay? If she has a problem, she'll tell us. Right?"
Inodded at Rain gratefully as I put the jacket down, noting how uncomfortableshe looked. Mark had remained quiet the entire time, his cheerfulness subdued,affected by the mood of his girlfriend. I felt uncomfortable and guilty too. Ididn't want Rain to be caught in the middle of my mess. I didn't want anyonestuck in the middle, because it didn't have to be that way. They were myfriends even before I got together with James. Just because things changed for me that night didn't mean everything hadto change, especially with them. I was certain, despite my ex's connectionswith them, that they all had my back.
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Keep the Faith (Preview)Romance
As a community development worker, Faith was quite familiar with heartbreak and recovery after all the time she spent on disaster relief missions. So when her five-year relationship ends right before she left for a mission trip to a typhoon-stricken...