IV - Harsh Realities

When we are confronted with reality, sometimes there is nothing we could do but face the truth. Hiding in the comfort of lies would only do more damage than good. It is what Seb decided to do when he finally signed the cleaning contract with Ryan.

No matter how hard it might be, he was hoping that the pain would wake him up.

The pain of knowing the definitive truth that Ryan’s love for him is gone might just be the one thing he needed to wake up from his five-years long dream. It might just be what he needed to finally move forward and get back his life on track.

Every Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays, Seb would come in the morning to clean and tidy Ryan’s place up. It was just three days a week, and even if Ryan wouldn’t be there as he cleans, for Seb it felt too long.

He didn’t accept the job to be near Ryan, he just wanted to show him that everything was fine, that he had forgotten the past and he doesn’t affect him anymore.

Seb felt that if he lied to Ryan about his true feelings, then maybe he would start feeling it in reality.

“Are you really going to clean for him?” Nora asked him as she drove Seb to the condo. “Is that a good idea, though?

“I already signed a contract and all.” Seb replied.

“So, now what? You’re going to let his new girlfriend boss you around? Isn’t that masochistic, Seb? You should be trying to stay away from anything that would hurt you, not gravitate towards it.

“His girlfriend is not living with him. She has work in another city, and just helped him move back here.

“Okay, so the girlfriend is out of the way, what now? What are you going to do? Ryan is still going to be around. He might not be there when you clean, but working for him still adds up to the chance of you interacting with him. Are you really ready to face him, to talk to him?

“I don’t know. Maybe I ‘ll get used to this whole thing eventually. Our relationship is not the same, Nora, maybe by being near him, I could get to accept that sooner. I have to. I can’t always be the only one clinging. I have to accept that he doesn’t love me anymore.

“Fine, just don’t get hurt Seb. If it gets too much to handle, ran away. You don’t have to force yourself to face something that you’re not ready. You’ll only end up hurting yourself that way.

There wasn’t much to clean at Ryan’s condo that day. Aside from a few scattered books and unwashed dishes, the place was relatively neat.

Ryan finally got everything that he dreamed of. He’s a lawyer, he got nice things and a spacious penthouse at an expensive condo. Seb was happy for him, he truly is, but he couldn’t help but feel disappointed that he was no longer part of that dream.

He must accept the fact that Ryan chose a future without him.

“How was your first day cleaning his condo?” Barry asked as they prepared for the opening of Barry’s.

“It was alright. Nothing much to do so I finished early and went to the gym.” Seb replied.

“So… you didn’t get a chance to see him today, to talk to him?

“No. It’s better that way. I don’t think I’m that ready to talk to him yet. Things haven’t really sunk in yet. It doesn’t really feel like he’s back you know, I guess maybe because I was expecting things differently.

Seb quickly rid his mind of any thoughts of Ryan that night. He waited for tables with a smile and a never-gets-tired attitude.

Things completely went south, though, when Ryan walked in the bar with two other. Barry assigned another waiter to their table and Seb continued on with his work. He didn’t want to be affected by Ryan’s presence, but it proved to be difficult.

From time to time, Seb would find himself stealing glances.

The three just came from the opening dinner party of the law firm and decided to have some drinks after dinner. Ryan looked like he was having fun, like everything in his world had finally fallen into its proper place, meanwhile, Seb looked from afar, putting up a brave face and a fake smile as his broken world started to crumble all over again.

“Seb, maybe you should go home.” Barry told him as he noticed Seb spacing out as he stared at Ryan.

“It’s okay, I’m fine.

“Are you sure?

“Yeah… I’ll just take a quick break outside.” He said.

Seb walked out of the back alley of the bar and looked up the night sky. The city lights had drowned all the stars in the sky and Seb saw no single shining light like he saw no hope for him and Ryan.

As the city of Estrella lost its stars, Seb lost his remaining hope.

“His life is complete, even without me in it.” He sighed. “Maybe this is how things are meant to happen, maybe this is how the world wakes me up.

The back alley door opened and Seb turned his head. “Is this a bad time?” Ryan asked him as he stepped out.

“It’s alright, I’m just having a short break.” Seb replied as he continued on looking at the sky, searching even for a single star.

“The sky is empty again tonight.” Ryan said.

“It had been, for years. Before, I could still see a single star every night. That single star was enough, but now nothing is left. They’re all gone.

“They’re still there. Behind the polluted sky, the stars are still shining brightly.

“It’s still different. What’s the use of knowing that they’re there when you can’t even see them?

Ryan suddenly fell quiet. Seb turned his head and saw Ryan looking at him. “Seb, I’m sorry…” Ryan said.

“Don’t.” Seb replied firmly. “Just don’t. Go back inside, don’t let me ruin your fun.

“We don’t have to be like this, Seb. I don’t want us to be strangers.” Ryan told him.

“Ryan, you moved on. Even without me, your life moved forward, please let me do the same.” Seb told him calmly. “We’re just part of each others' past now, and we don’t have to force to be something more. Just continue living your life the way want to, I’ll do the same.

“So, what are you saying, Seb? You don’t want me in your life anymore?” Ryan asked him.

“I’m not the one who decided that first, Ryan. You did.” Seb said and then walked back inside.

Talking to Ryan didn’t turn out the way Seb wanted it to be. He thought that he could finally get the closure that he needed to move on and get back his life in track, but he just couldn’t do it.

He couldn’t put an end to his love that easily. He couldn’t admit to himself that it was over between him and Ryan. Even though he knew that it was over between them, he couldn’t just let go, he kept on hanging on.

There are just some things that are too great to let go of. So, even though we know it’s impossible, that it would never be, we still kept on holding on to that slim string of hope. That slim string is the only thing that keeps us from falling into a harsh and painful reality.

The following Wednesday, Seb came to Ryan’s condo unit to clean. As long as Ryan wasn’t around, then there was no reason for him to quit. Besides, it’s not like cleaning for him meant anything. It was just a job, it didn’t mean that they’re going back into each other's lives.

Ryan’s condo was different than it was last Monday. Things were messy.

There were books scattered around the living room, unwashed clothes in the hamper, dirty dishes on the sink, and countless beer cans on the thrash.

When Seb opened the fridge to check, he saw practically nothing. The only things that Ryan had in there were cans of beer and bottles of water.

“That’s too much beer.” Seb muttered. “He doesn’t even have any fresh produce. He must eat out a lot.

Cleaning around the house, Seb noticed one thing; there was not a single picture around. Not of the Cortez’s and not even of Hannah.

The last thing that Seb cleaned was the books scattered in the living room. One by one, Seb arranged the books at the top of the table, knowing how it was easier for Ryan to find things where he left them.

When Seb picked up the last book on the floor, it slipped from his hand. As it fell back on the floor, so does a single Polaroid picture.

Seb’s heart suddenly skipped a beat the moment he saw the picture, but as he looked at that picture his heart was slowly filled with pain.

It was a picture taken on New Year’s Eve five years ago. They wearing silly hats to celebrate the coming of a new year. They looked so happy together like nothing could ever tear them apart.

That picture was the last they had together.

When they took that picture, Seb thought that the happiness would last forever, that nothing and no one could separate them.

The first holidays without his dad was heartbreaking, but Ryan never let him feel alone.

He never thought that the man who pieces him back together would also be the one who breaks him apart.

Jan. 4, 2014

Ever since that horrible accident, the Cortez’s had changed. Seb just refused to believe it. They tried acting the same, but Seb could feel them growing farther apart from him. They were the only family he had left, so Seb acted like he hadn’t noticed anything.

The moment Josefina caught Seb and Ryan kissing at the rooftop, every pretension she had left crumbled, and she finally lashes out.

She never once blamed Ryan, all the fault fell on Seb. When Josefina started calling Seb horrible names, Seb tuned them all off as Ryan stood up for him. It was the first time he had raised his voice to his own mother. Josefina was devastated that her own son would turn against her and take the side of the devil that seduces him.

Every second hurt for Seb, but he tried his best to understand where Josefina was coming from. She was shocked and confused. She raised Ryan as a devout Christian, so homosexuality was out of the question. It is taboo.

It was never his intention to make a rift between them. The last thing he wanted was to break the remaining family he had. He wanted to hold onto to them because he had no one left.

Seb was on his way to the bank that day. With him was the passbook of his inheritance. It was the first time he would touch that money, he just had no use of it in the past. The rent from the remaining two floors of the building were enough to cover his expenses, but the building was getting old, and there some maintenance and repairs that had to be done.

That’s why Seb was shocked when he found out that a huge amount was missing from the account.

“That can’t be, I haven’t made any transactions with this account ever since…” Seb paused. “How did this happen?” He asked the teller.

The teller insisted that several withdrawals over the year were made and that’s when Seb insisted on seeing their records on the said withdrawal.

When the bank finally showed him the records, Seb’s heart sunk.

All the withdrawals were made by a representative, with his signature on the withdrawal slip, but all it took was one look for Seb to know that his signature was forged. The amount of each withdrawal was not big enough for the bank to red flag it or call him for authorization.

What broke Seb’s heart, though, wasn’t the stolen money, but the rather those who stole it; Josefina and Frederico Cortez.

But even then, Seb refused to acknowledge the fact that his only remaining family would steal from him, would betray him. There must be a reasonable explanation for all of that. Seb wanted to hear that before he draws any conclusion. Deep inside Seb wanted them to make an excuse and no matter how ridiculous it might, he was ready to accept it.

The bank provided Seb copies of the withdrawal slips, and he had a decision to make.

Would he confront the Cortez’s about his stolen money and risk losing the only semblance of a family he had left, or would he finally face the harsh realities and free himself from the lies he was living with.

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