Justin: I am hungry—the heavy lunch I had didn’t do me justice with all the work I did at the office. My head is reeling with all of the work I’ve done. And I am tired—emotionally and physically—and all I need is my twin to lift that huge emotional feeling off my chest.
Unfortunately, the first person I see when I arrive at the house isn’t the one who’s going to lift that emotional baggage away.
“Oh. You,” I said, as the young boy stood up to greet me. Give props to the guy for thinking that I was deserving of respect. I smirked. “What are you doing here?” I asked him, putting my things on one of the couches in the living room.
“I am waiting for Nyah. She didn’t go to office today, right? She went to my school earlier this afternoon. She’s not answering my texts and calls,” Joshua replied, and I was about to issue a nasty retort when Mom came down the stairs. “Justin, I didn’t know you’re home,” Mom said, and I welcomed her kiss on the cheek and warm embrace. Mom always distinctly smells of peppermint, and whenever I encounter that scent in locations other than home, I remember Mom.
“Just got here,” I told her. “What’s he doing here?” I asked Mom in a hushed tone, and she released me from the hug. “He’s here to wait for Nyah, who’s incommunicado as of now,” she replied, rubbing my back. I knew she was trying to calm me down, and it could work, since I am too tired to have a flare up. I just shook my head. “Where is my twin?” I asked, and Mom shrugged. “Come on, she’s 22. I don’t look for you when you don’t come home for dinner, do I?” Mom said, a wide smile on her face.
“Mom, when Nyah arrives, can we have a sleepover?” I asked, still in a whisper, and Mom nodded. “Of course, kiddo,” she said, kissing me on the forehead. “I’ll leave you two here while I prepare dinner,” Mom said, giving me a pointed look that told me wordlessly to behave, a look that I knew so well having been given that stare almost always when I was a kid. She turned to Joshua and said genially, “Stay for dinner. Nyah will probably be home around that time. I had Miguel call her up.” Joshua nodded, thanking Mom, and then Mom disappeared into the kitchen.
I turned to Joshua. “Having a meet-the-family?” I asked, and Joshua gave me a grim smile. “No. I half-expected Nyah to be here when I went here, but she wasn’t. Your mom was welcoming enough to invite me in and to show me your photo albums. Cute two tiny front teeth when you were a baby,” Joshua said, and I felt my temper shoot up.
Joshua lifted his hands up in the air to stop me. “Hey, I’m kidding. She just invited me in and we talked about basketball for the most part. That’s it,” Joshua said, and I backed off.
“Are you serious with my sister?” I asked him, and he nodded, and I saw the intensity in Joshua’s eyes. This guy is determined—really determined—to be with my sister. I am amused to see this kind of seriousness in a boy his age.
“As serious as hell.”
“More serious than you were with Chloe?”
Joshua scowled at me. “You still can’t get over that, huh?” he said, and I stayed silent. “Yes, more serious than I was with Chloe,” Joshua continued, and I nodded, stepping closer to him. He was tall for his age, but I was taller than he was. He looked up at me, trying to hold my gaze.
“Don’t hurt my sister,” I warned, and Joshua stared at me, his gaze still so intense.
“I wouldn’t dream of it, Justin.”
I stepped back, content at what I had heard. I motioned for him to sit down.
“Hey, Justin—Whoa, you’re here.”
Joshua and I turned in time to see a breathless Nyah as she removed her sneakers. “Josh,” she said, and she rushed to the guy and kissed him on the cheek. Joshua flushed, maybe out of embarrassment that I had to see Nyah give him a piece of affection (but seriously, he should know what I saw Nyah give Thaddeus the other day, which I bet deserves more blush than this), and Nyah turned to me, giving me a hug. “Torturing Josh and harassing him?” she teased upon releasing me.
“Wouldn’t have stopped if you didn’t arrive,” I replied smugly, and she pinched me on the nose. “What’s up?” she asked Joshua, and he shrugged. “I promised you I’d see you. Thought I’d ask you to dinner,” Joshua replied, his eyes momentarily fleeting towards me.
“But he’s staying here for dinner with me, your mother, and your brothers.”
All three of us looked up and Dad was slowly descending the stairs like he was king, and I smiled. Nyah pranced towards Dad, barefoot and all, and hugged him. “I was with Uncle Gabe,” she said when Dad opened his mouth to maybe ask her where she’s been.
Nyah had said the magic words, for Dad just smiled. “How’s my brother?” he asked, and Nyah shrugged. “Doing real good,” she said.
“Sleepover,” Dad told her, and she nodded. “Justin?” she asked, to which Dad responded with a nod. She reached to me and gave my bicep a squeeze. Her eyes told me she understood what the sleepover was for, and then she turned to Joshua. “You’ll love Momma’s cooking,” she told him, and then I turned away, telling Dad I’d freshen up before dinner.
If I would have to grade Joshua for his “performance” at the family dinner, I’d say he’s got nine out ten. He wasn’t being pretentious, nor was he trying to impress my parents and brothers too much either. He couldn’t impress me, so he didn’t try to work on that. He was, amazingly so, just being himself.
“He did good.”
Nyah looked at me as she tossed her pillows onto the bed. The same setup was employed: Mom and Dad’s bed plus the sofa bed. Derek and Alex occupied the sofa bed while Nyah and I were squeezed between Mom and Dad. “Joshua?” she asked, and I nodded. “I thought he was gonna bolt when Mom said he’s staying for dinner,” I told her, and she grinned.
“I wish I could say that I did perfectly well when I met Josh’s parents. His mom is worse than Lazaro,” she said, mentioning her terror professor in Ethics back in college which caused her to have breakdowns every time a graded recitation loomed near. “She made me feel like I was a gum stuck to the bottom of her shoes,” she said, and I laughed.
“Okay,” Dad said, calling order to the sleepover. He settled next to Nyah and Mom entered the room, wiping her face with a towel. She walked over to Dad and sat next to him, and Dad kissed her on the hair. Nyah moved over closer to me to give space for Mom. “What is this sleepover for again?” Dad asked.
“I think Justin had already talked to Alisa?” Nyah said, and I nodded. I draped my arm over Nyah and leaned my chin on her shoulder. “She said she was the one who spread all those rumors about me—not that it wouldn’t spread without her help, but she helped start them. That and the fact that I was the main reason as to why she decided to be a manhater all those years after we broke up,” I said, and then I went on to narrate what happened during my and Alisa’s talk.
“I conclude that it didn’t go well?” Derek said, and I turned to my brother. “How so?” I asked, and he gave me a grin that exposed the dimple on his cheek. I think it was part of our genetics to have at least one dimple, for I haven’t seen anyone in this family—discounting Mom—who doesn’t have one. Alex was the one who answered for his twin.
“Well, for one, you walk like a zombie,” he said, holding up a finger to indicate that he is going to state more reasons than one, “and then two, when I talk to you, you just nod or shake your head. You don’t give me a sensible answer. Three, you’re making me or Derek answer all the phone calls from the girls you have dated—and don’t you dare think I didn’t know that you have diverted some of their calls to a fastfood resto. They scream at my ears as to why every frigging time they call you on your cell, they get a fastfood delivery hotline.”
I laughed as Nyah elbowed me in the ribs. “Harsh. Imagine calling someone and getting a ‘Thank you for calling McDonald’s delivery.’ Whatever, Justin,” she said, with a roll of her eyes.
“I routed them to KFC.”
“Still the same.”
Dad cleared his throat to stop my and Nyah’s bickering. “Justin, it’s not really a good idea to run away from those girls.”
I sighed. “I know, Dad. But I need space. Really need that as of now. Maybe I am stopping from being present in the dating scene. Maybe I want to enjoy singlehood. Maybe—”
“Maybe the talk with Alisa knocked sense into you,” Nyah filled in, and I groaned. My sister, being my ever reliable half, knew how I feel most of the time. “Yes, it did put some sense into me,” I admitted, and I could feel my face flushing.
“Maybe you’re thinking that it still isn’t too late to start all over again,” she continued, and I nodded. I felt her arm snake around my waist as she pulled me closer.
“Did Justin hire you as his spokesperson?” Derek asked Nyah, and Nyah threw a pillow at him that hit him square in the face. “She just vocalizes Justin’s thoughts better, that’s it,” Alex said. “Will you be able to say those things yourself?” he asked, looking at Derek who was still recovering from Nyah’s pillow assault.
“No,” he said, rolling his eyes. I smiled at how Derek, who is like a male version of Nyah, is as similar to me in most ways, and how Alex, who almost looks like me, is like Nyah. Alex and Nyah’s personalities are like carbon copies of each other—both have a passion for reading (they actually are guilty of filling up the house library), like music from Mom and Dad’s time more than they do the music now, and have the same favorite food, drink, color, and chocolate. Derek, on the other hand, is giving me a run for the money as the Santillan bad ass—but I bet he’ll temper down, for from what I heard, he’s found this girl with whom he plans to have a serious relationship (Nyah told me the story to this one—apparently Derek’s been crushing on her bad but was too torpe to ask her out. Derek’s another story.).
“There you go,” Alex said, and Nyah gave him a warm smile. Nyah turned to me. “So now that you’ve talked with Alisa, are you gunning to talk to Alexi?” she asked.
I shook my head. “No.”
“Why?” Mom asked, who is now in Dad’s arms. Dad was stroking Mom’s hair, while she was tracing circles around Dad’s tummy. And believe it or not, they’re doing it unconsciously. I don’t think they’re aware that they’re doing what they’re doing.
“Because I still have to fix my life. I don’t want to go to her just because I think everything’s okay—no, check that,” I said, breathing deeply, “I don’t want to go to her just because I think I’ve righted all my wrongs just by apologizing to Alisa. She’s not the only woman I’ve hurt. I’ve also hurt guys along the way because I’ve stolen their girlfriends or I’ve made them fight endlessly because I was flirting with the girl. I don’t want to be with her because I’m still broken—I wasn’t ever whole after Alisa and I have broken up. I was just acting like I was.”
Mom stood up and pulled me to her, enclosing me in a hug. “You’ll heal in time, Justin. The first step is always acceptance of your faults,” she whispered, and I nodded. I didn’t know when I had started to cry. And then I felt another pair of arms wrap around me and I knew it was Nyah based on the lavender and mint scent. “And then forgiveness. You have to let everything go,” Mom continued, and I just sobbed in the arms of the two most important women in my life.
“We’re here for you, Justin,” whispered Nyah, and I stayed silent. I felt other arms wrap around me, Mom, and Nyah, and I knew the other men in this Santillan family are behind me all the way.
“All the way. Always,” Mom said, echoing my thoughts.