II - Welcome Home

Sometimes, losing someone important only means that you would meet a new one. A space that was left empty naturally means that something would step in and take that space.

It is just a matter of perception and acceptance on our part if would welcome the new or seek and hold on to the old.

Seb had experienced so many losses in his life, some of them would forever leave an empty space.

When his father and step-mother died in a car accident six years ago, Seb’s life started spiraling down. All through the ordeal, Ryan was by his side, and it kept him hopeful for a better tomorrow.

That’s why when Ryan left, Seb’s world crumbled, and a big empty space was left in his heart. A space that no one might ever fill.

Running for about an hour cleared Seb’s mind. It also masked the pain and anxiousness in his heart as a mere palpitation due to tiredness.

After his run, Seb took a shower. While in the locker room, he got a call from Barry’s wife, Paula, inviting for lunch, but since Paula still had about an hour in her shift, they agreed to meet at the hospital.

The couple was former tenants at the apartment building, but as their family grows and Barry’s became a huge hit, they decided to buy their own home in the suburbs.

Seb was really happy for them, but from time to time he misses their presence at the building. They were more of a family to him than his step-mother’s family ever were.

“Hey, did you wait long?” Paula was still wearing her nurse’s uniform.

“Not really.” Seb replied as he stood up. “So, what did Barry say? Why do you want to meet all of a sudden?

“Let’s find somewhere to eat first, I’m starving.” Paula said. They choose a nearby cafe popular to the hospital employees. It was lunch break, so the place was buzzing.

“So, the kids went back to school yesterday…” Seb said, trying to avoid the inevitable.

“Yes, and it’s great for Barry, he could finally relax during the day with the three whirlwinds out of the house.” Paula replied. “I heard you helped Nora yesterday. What was she working on again?” Paula paused and then raised an eyebrow at Seb.

“A law office…” Seb sighed.

“Right… I heard you spaced out…”

“I was just tired…” Seb replied, avoiding eye contact.

“Seb, I’m not going to tell you what or what not to do, just please, don’t be reckless. You’ve been out of medication for a year, you’re getting better. I don’t want you to see in the hospital again, other than visiting me.” Paula said.

“I know… I’m alright.” Even Seb was unconvinced with his own answer. “I am, really. It’s just that, I can’t help but remember things... I mean, it’s around this time that…” Seb sighed and then fell quiet.

“You’ve been keeping busy, right? Just do everything to keep your mind off of it.” Paula told him. “If it’s still too much to handle, though, you know where to find me and Barry. If the apartment feels too suffocating, then you could always stay at our place. That’s why we gave you a key.

“I know, but I don’t want the kids to see me like that. I’m their cool uncle Seb.” He said.

“The kids love you no matter what, Seb. We all do.” Paula told him.

Taking his mind off the past wasn’t as easy as it seems for Seb. There were just too many things that remind him of Ryan. Everywhere he looks, he would see those little details, but he is trying his best not to be affected.

There was a time where he thought that developing immunity to those things was the way to go, but it didn’t really work out for him. That’s why he was conflicted about Hannah’s proposition of hiring him to clean that condo unit.

Keeping himself busy always worked great for him, but he just wasn’t so sure that he can handle being surrounded by that many law materials.

Seb doesn’t want another relapse.

He wants to get better, not just for himself but for the remaining people that care about him. He doesn’t want to disappoint them, he doesn’t want to worry them.

It was the following day that Seb got a call from Hannah, she asked if Seb could meet them at the condo. She and her boyfriend were there and the lawyer wanted to meet him to discuss the contract for his cleaning service.

From all of the odd jobs Seb had to take it was the only one where a formal contract was ever discussed, and it was the only one that he hesitated on accepting. Nonetheless, Seb agreed to at least meet them.

“Come in, have a seat.” Hannah answered the door when Seb arrived. ‘Don’t be nervous, he just wants to meet you. About the contract, he’s a lawyer, he wants everything to be ironed out.” Hannah said cheerfully as they walked into the living room.

The unit looked even more luxurious than it was before. It had a modern and minimalist vibe, clean and uncluttered.

“Does your boyfriend really need a cleaner, I mean the place looks immaculate?” Seb asked Hannah.

“That’s because he hasn’t really moved in yet. Once he starts living and working here, you’ll be surprised how things get cluttered easily. Sometimes he’s just too focused on his work that he doesn’t have time for anything else. Umm, here you could read the contract while we wait for him.” Hannah said as she handed Seb the papers.

One of the bedroom doors opened and Seb heard footsteps. “Sorry, I had to talk to a client.

Hearing that voice made Seb froze in his seat. Even after five long years, he couldn’t forget that voice, it followed him wherever he goes. He could hear it every time he would close his eyes and every time he does, it felt painful.

“It’s alright, we were just talking.” Hannah said as she stood up and walked towards her boyfriend.

“Seb…?” Turning his head, Seb saw Hannah anchoring her hands on Ryan’s arm.

Five years.

Ryan left and never came back, but five long years he finally returned… with someone else in his arms. Seb had conflicting feelings.

“Honey, you know him?” Hannah asked as Ryan slowly and gently removed her hands from his arm.

“His…” Ryan's words hanged in the air as Seb’s heart skipped a beat. “…my cousin.” Ryan finally said. And Seb never felt so hurt.

Cousin. That one word was enough to tell Seb that Ryan had changed, his feeling had changed. He was just a cousin, and they could never be any more.

“Step cousin.” Seb corrected lowly as he kept his emotions in check. “Former step-cousin.” He added. His whole body was starting to feel numb at that moment. Confusion and anxiety clouded his mind and his heart was beating painfully loud and fast.

He couldn’t take being in that place any longer. He just couldn’t.

“What a small world…?” Hannah said with a smile.

“Yeah… and yet it took him five years to come back.” Seb said shakily. “I’m sorry, I have to go. I’ll read the contract, and I’ll send it back to you.

Without looking at Ryan again, Seb stood up and walked towards the door.

“Seb…” Ryan called him before he opened the door.

“Welcome back.” Seb muttered painfully and then walked out as fast as he could.

Being in that condo suddenly felt so suffocating, it felt like his whole body was being crushed. His chest felt heavy and his breath was becoming short. When he got to the elevator he started trembling and so many fears, irrational fears came flooding his head.

As soon as he got out of the condo, tears started falling from his eyes.

In an instant, Seb’s world crumbled yet again.

Instinctively, he called Paula. “Where are you…?” Seb asked as he sobbed. “Paula… I…” Seb couldn’t finish his words, he was sobbing and it was hard for him to speak. “I need you…”

“Seb, what’s wrong? Where are you? I’ll go there.” Paula asked.

“Paula… He’s back… he came back… but… but not for me…” It was then that Seb finally felt weak, but he kept on walking. The farther he was away from the condo, the less painful it was for him.

Seb walked without any direction, just like how he thinks his life was at that moment.

He started thinking; maybe if he just turned a blind eye back then, maybe if he didn’t do what he did, then maybe Ryan wouldn’t have left.

Even when Ryan’s family was against their relationship, if he just pretended that everything was fine, that he knew nothing, then maybe they would’ve accepted, or even just pretend to accept their relationship.

Yet again, Seb started blaming himself. It was all his fault. He drove Ryan away.

January 5, 2014

“Too much? I don’t care. Things would’ve been better that way.” Seb heard Josefina said from behind the door. “When Ryan’s father ran away the moment he learned about my pregnancy, I promised that I would raise him to be a moral, god-fearing man. I didn’t endure all those difficult years of raising him alone just for a deviant to lead him astray.

All the doubts and the hesitation went away after Seb heard what his stepmom’s family said behind his back.

Trembling in anger, Seb knocked on the door of the first-floor unit where Josefina and Jacinta lived.

“Seb, this is not a good time.” Jacinta opened the door. For years, Seb treated her like his own grandmother, and for years he felt like her family, but things could be really deceiving, and Seb felt like a fool for not seeing it sooner.

“There is no good time for this.” Seb said as he forced his way in.

“Young man, we’re having a family meeting here, you better leave.” Frederico told Seb sternly.

“Move out.” Seb said, ignoring his phony uncle.

“What did you say?” Josefina asked him.

“I said move out! Get lost!” Seb shouted as his heart pounded and his body trembles in anger.

“How dare you?! After what you did to my son, you’re the one who has the audacity to get angry?!” Josefina shouted back at him. “You can’t tell us to move out!

“I can. Dad left this whole building in my name, and none of you had ever paid rent ever since you moved here. We have no contract, so I can throw you out whenever I want.

“Is this how you treat your family?!” Frederico shouted back at him.

“You should be asking yourself that.” Seb replied. “You can stop pretending that you see me as family, you can’t get anything from me anymore.

“Sebastian, don’t talk to your auntie and uncle like that.” Jacinta told him.

“I said stop it!” Seb shouted angrily. “What kind auntie and uncle take advantage of their nephew who just lost his parents? What kind of family steals from you? What kind of family calls you a faggot, a deviant, and wished that you were the one who died instead?!

Tears started falling from Seb’s eyes. Both from anger and despair.

The whole situation was heartbreaking for him. He felt like he was inside a void, that it was better if he couldn’t feel anything anymore.

“No. We’re not family.” He added. “You have a choice, it’s either you move out by tomorrow, or I’ll bring this to court.” He said as he raised the brown envelope he was holding.

“What is that?” Frederico asked him. Clearly, he was afraid.

“Read it.” He said as he tossed the envelope on the table.“If you don’t want to go to jail.” He said as he looked at Frederico. “If you don’t want your political career to end.” He added as he turned to Josefina. “Move out.” He said before finally walking out of that dreaded apartment.

As soon as he walked out of the apartment, Seb felt his whole body turn week. He didn’t even make it to the elevator, he just fell on his knees on the floor.

“Seb…?” He heard Ryan call his name and he looked up.

“I’m sorry, Ryan… I’m sorry…” Seeing Ryan in front of him, Seb just lost it. He started sobbing. He felt empty, he felt so alone.

“Don’t be…” Ryan said as he knelt in front of him. “It’s not your fault.” Ryan said and Seb sobbed even more. “It’s okay, I’m here.” He added as he enveloped Seb in his arms.

Seb was wrong, he wasn’t alone. He still had Ryan.

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