Somewhere in downtown London)
The firelight slowly flickered as the rain continued to make its way down. People from here and there ran with umbrellas or briefcases, trying to stay dry while at the same time, finding some shelter where they can pass the time until the sun would eventually come back. But the chances seemed to have grown bleaker by the time the sky got dark. Before they knew it, the power seemed to have died down everywhere (save for the few people that managed to own generators). And unfortunately, it left Jeremy deLain no other choice.
They were lucky that he had a lighter. But as it seemed, it didn’t appear to have calmed Scott Santos’ spirits. Not that he cared, of course. Jeremy just secretly wished that his fear will falter and disappear, at least until the sun comes back. The last thing he needed was for a twenty-two year old man with a timid and childish personality to scare himself to sleep.
Instead, he busied himself trying to find a taxi that could probably take them back to their places. Jeremy, back to the pub where he works at. And Scott, to wherever the hell he should be by this time.
He stared at the other intently. It appeared that Scott was trying to find comfort in the garbage can they were taking refuge in. And Jeremy was glad that he was trying, at least. Any more outbursts coming from him and he would be more than ready to lose his shit in front of him for he, too, felt himself going insane.
It had been three hours. They definitely had no means of communication. And Jeremy just wanted to go back to his pub. Back to where he can feel safe.
Unfortunately, the rain only seemed to get worse. Judging from the sounds he was hearing, the skies will probably be cleared up after an hour.
He was silent. He was hungry. He was cold, despite the warmth coming from the fire.
A hand then held his. Jeremy turned to see Scott, offering to him some kind of chocolate bar.
It was the thought that counted, right?
He took it without showing that he wanted to be hesitant about this.
While Scott zoned out, Jeremy stared at the ceiling, taking a bite every now and then. With nothing else to stare at anymore, he decided to think about Scott. How that man, who couldn’t even hold papers without having to let the stack fall to the ground at least twice (or so it seemed to him).
He was Scott Santos. A person someone like Jeremy deLain can’t stand because of his timid personality.
He was shorter than him, standing at five foot flat. His brown hair was always kept unkempt, his bangs sometimes covering his dark brown eyes. He had a fair complexion. It was hard to believe that he was Filipino. Aren’t freckles rare in his place?
It seemed that he wasn’t used to this kind of temperature. It was the only thing Jeremy can understand. Four months is still not enough to get used to the weather they have in England. What’s worse that he has allergic rhinitis. So there would be sneezing every two minutes.
At least he was decent to cover his own mouth, he thought.
And he wasn’t a talkative person. So Jeremy can bask into the silence without having to hear a loud outburst.
However, time passed, and Jeremy soon became sick of it.
He pushed his blonde hair back with his hand and finally decided to look at Scott. Strangely, the moment felt so nostalgic. Like he wanted to say something about this. But Jeremy shrugged it off.
“Aren’t you going to talk?”
Scott looked at him with frightened eyes before staring at the ground.
Wrong move. Definitely a wrong move.
“No, I’m sorry. I…”
How can he explain this? Jeremy looked at the ceiling, hoping to look for some answers. But after a moment, he finally gave in to the option of just telling the truth.
“The silence just...disturbed me, you know?”
It took a while for Scott to finally look up to him. The small smile was just a bonus.
Jeremy didn’t know if it was because of Scott's unwillingness to start a conversation or the awkwardness he just started.
All of a sudden, he heard humming from his right. He turned to see Scott humming some kind of tune. Jeremy was sure that he had heard it from somewhere before.
Without his mind actually processing it, he blurted out, “Something To Remember You By?”
And that was how he made acquaintance with the man.
Scott’s eyes seemed to have shone.
“You listen to those kinds of old songs too?”
His instinct told him no. That somehow, for some odd reason, he recalled that song without ever hearing it in his entire life. But it would seem that maybe he put his hopes a bit too high. Bringing it down might make things even worse.
But now that he thought of it, he did remember the voice of his mother, warm just like before, her tune trying to blend itself with a melody he couldn’t hear, the rain slowly becoming background music for all that he cared about was his mother, all he heard in an old home rather far away from the streets of London.
Or was it?
“Mum used to do sing that to me…”
Scott chuckled. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to take that as an insult or not.
“T-To be honest...I don’t know how I found out either.”
Either? Did Scott read his mind? Or was he not careful with his words just as usual?
“But I think I heard it somewhere in the radio. I don’t really know.”
Somewhere in the radio? Does it even exist in the radio stations these days?
Did Scott decide to change topics?
“What’s happening. Right now.”
Jeremy can agree on that.
“Hiding in the garbage bin doesn’t seem to be the best of ideas, yes?”
Scott laughed. It was soft. It wasn’t the usual laugh he’d normally hear from pub goers and regulars. For once, it felt decent. Human. Natural.
It made Jeremy wonder. Was the pub a place for people to hide from their insecurities? Their fears? Their nightmares?
He couldn’t hear the sound of the rain anymore. Instead, he heard the song his mother once sang. How it made him want to run back to his old home. How it made him wish that she was still there despite all that had happened.
He heard Scott yawning. Jeremy opened the lid only to see the rain once again.
“It’s still raining though.”
He was a gentleman. And a gentleman is definitely never destined to end up in a garbage bin in any part of his life.
The air seemed to have grown colder. Scott’s sneezes became more frequent and Jeremy didn’t know what to do.
He didn’t know why but somehow, he felt the urge to sing. And before he could even stop himself, the melody came out, two octaves lower from what he originally heard. He didn’t know how to get himself to just stop. But eventually, he gave in.
Oh, give me something to remember you by
When you are far away from me
His cheeks were flushed. But it seemed that his accidental efforts were not in vain for it seemed that Scott had continued what he had started.
Just a little something, meaning love cannot die
No matter where you chance to be
Jeremy didn’t know why but he felt drawn to it. His voice was sweet. It wasn’t too high nor too low. It felt right. Never mind the occasional stutters in between the words. He could listen to this for a long time. How it rose like a flower blooming and then fell like a feather slowly going back and forth until it would fly again like a phoenix. How each sound reminded him of the ocean when the waves clash, rise, and fall until it would become still by the time dawn comes.
Except the melody never stopped. And Jeremy wasn’t even sure if he was listening to the same Scott Santos he knew. The same man who would hide behind the counter for he was too afraid to see a fight or an argument. The same person who would space out or share the silence with him whenever he would deem it necessary. He felt as if he was listening to someone else. And for some odd reason, he knew that person. However, his train of thought seemed to have stopped when he saw Scott looking down, possibly embarrassed at what he did.
“M-My apologies! I just…”
He tilted his head. “Just?”
Silence came once again. Jeremy wasn’t even sure if he would be glad to bring it up. Instead, they spent the rest of the night, basking in the silence that shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
An hour seemed to have passed when Jeremy noticed the sound of the pitter and patter of the rain slowly becoming softer and softer until he was sure that it was gone.
However, he had later on discovered that Scott’s eyes were closed and his mouth left a long trail of drool which left a puddle on the ground.
He fell asleep. Once again, Jeremy felt awkward.
“How will I…”
But it seemed that he didn’t need to worry about that.
Scott slowly woke up, his eyes focused on none other than him. But in the blink of an eye, his expression changed.
It was as if he just saw a ghost. Or rather, someone he had missed. Someone that made the pained expression in his face seem obvious. And it worried Jeremy. Did he have a nightmare of some sorts?
He uttered something. However, he could not make it out. The word seemed to have been blurred in his ears as if he only heard nothing but a buzz.
And then, a small smile.
“I-Is the rain gone, sir?”
They acted as if nothing had ever happened.
The hustle and bustle of the city was something Jeremy was used to. Sure, he’s usually never there to actually experience it. The pub needs him, after all. The people need him. So on most days and nights, he would be standing behind the counter, waiting for someone to just drop by and order a drink. It was just unfortunate that no even dared to come and offer a helping hand. But he was happy just doing the work by himself while listening to the chit chats of mostly businessmen who would come by evening for a break.
He learned about the good side of London. How the numbers that appeared on the newspapers everyday were good signs that they were improving. That they, as a nation, were progressing.
He learned about facts. He learned about the ways of the busy people. How the thought of receiving a paycheck became paradise. And somehow, Jeremy felt like he was a part of those people.. The good people who worked hard for their country.
He was a proud man. One who lived the ways of a gentleman and a successful businessman. He didn’t have much but he was happy to have been part of those millions of people who did everything to uphold the pride of their land.
Although he could not understand exactly why, the role he tried to fulfill at least kept him alive, full, and happy. But sometimes, he had to wonder why he was born or how some people still live despite not doing anything to make the nation develop. Why there is death when the world still seems to be ignorant of this reality. Why things seem so ephemeral when they could have just not existed in the first place. Why there is pain if all God wants is happiness.
But in the end, who was he to question them? Thoughts will be thoughts no matter what. It wasn’t as if there was an answer to all of them.
In the end, he decided to lay low and continue with his life in the pub. At least by the time his death would come, he wouldn’t be dealing with the other assholes anymore.
And as timid as Scott was, he ended up becoming a regular despite coming only on Tuesdays. When asked why, his only response would be, “I can think clearly.”
Still, Jeremy had to wonder why he’d travel a long distance just to get there. Surely there are a lot of pubs near his workplace. So why at his pub out of all the places he could choose from?
However, today was one of those days when the glass of beer was left untouched. Instead, Scott seemed to have indulged himself into the numbers and financial statements.
Starting a business is considered to be the roughest part. Jeremy understood that he needed space. Still, he still couldn’t believe that someone like him had managed to pull himself together to do this. Often, he wondered if he was okay with this.
“Your beer will get cold.”
It came out by accident. But it was only because Jeremy doesn’t like things going to waste. Scott, who seemed to have noticed it, gave a nervous laugh.
“I’m sorry, sir. I-I didn’t notice.”
He looked like he was forcing himself. But Jeremy didn’t mind. Even Scott needed a break. A temptation. An escape just like all the others.
Because that’s what the others were looking for in his pub. An escape from the city’s noises. From all the expectations being shoved down into their throats. An outlet to release all the frustrations from today’s work. And as much as he wanted to believe that he is a part of those good people who only did what they knew was best for the economy, he sometimes couldn’t help but feel like the gatekeeper of their sanctuary.
What was he, really? Was he just fated to follow some routine that he couldn’t understand?
By the time he had given up on trying to find some kind of answer, Scott left the now empty glass of beer and went back to work.
Alas, the time came for Jeremy to close the pub and retire for the night.
Well, he would have done that earlier if Scott paid attention to the time. Moreover, it seemed that he still wasn’t done with his work.
“It’s closing time, lad.”
He couldn’t even begin to describe his reaction when he found Scott’s bloodshot eyes. A part of Jeremy wanted to ask if he was okay.
But instead, Scott dismissed any questions mentally and proceeded to gather his papers.
No way was Jeremy letting him walk home if his movements were all wobbly.
“Don’t even think about going out yet.”
Scott, confused, paused in his tracks and turned to see the pub owner who appeared to have finished cleaning the last of the cups and glasses. Of course, his anxiety levels were going up. He wondered if he did something wrong. Maybe it was because of a while ago. Or maybe it was because he spent too much time in the pub that he forgot to go home. Or maybe it was because of—
“You can stay on the couch.”
That message, of course, got him even more confused. But he didn’t bother to ask anymore because by the time he was about to say something, Jeremy had already unlocked the door beside the restroom stall.
It was quiet. The world seemed to have died on the spot, a thought that scared Scott at one point. But aside from that, it made him calm for once. The noise had always bothered him. He didn’t know why but it would usually make going out seem like a living hell. But there he was, lying on the couch of a pub owner with a ton of questions swarming his brain.
His eyes scanned the beige room to find the rectangular clock that hung near the door.
One in the morning.
Bothering Jeremy was probably the last thing he’d do. Besides, how could he say to some stranger (he has never been sure about their relationship) that he couldn’t sleep? That the beer had already gotten into his system which resulted to him staring at the ceiling, hoping for some form of exhaustion to come in.
He then thought about England. How, all of a sudden, the world finally made sense to him. He didn’t know if it was because of the beer or the new life he had acquired. Or maybe it was the sudden turn he made in his life. The kind that even his therapist wouldn’t have expected him to do at all.
The cold air of the British dawn had nipped his skin despite the numerous blankets he had received. Even so, he couldn’t complain. At the same time, he felt the sudden urge to do so.
It was the first time he has seen that side of Jeremy. On a normal basis, he could considered as an uptight person.
Jeremy is known for being someone with a strong personality. He is everything Scott isn’t. And there were the few times in his life when Scott believed that he could just be like him if he tried so hard. If he can survive the day without his depression and anxiety acting up.
He had the meds. And he had the therapy. But how come it wasn’t enough?
He thought to himself that maybe he’s just doomed to be like this. But the words of his therapist were like parasites. They couldn’t leave no matter what. So he was forced to believe in some truth when, deep in his heart, he knew that it wasn’t like that.
“It’s just a phase.”
It didn’t feel like puberty. There was always the end thought that he’ll never get over it.
He then remembered how the gunshots sounded like on that day. When his whole world had been incinerated into ashes until he could see nothing. Until his world became nothing but black.
He shouldn’t have run away. He should have just perished with them. Then maybe he wouldn’t have regretted running away to London. Then maybe he’d still see them somewhere in heaven.
The leader of one of the sororities in her university. Up to this day, he still doesn’t know where she went. If she had already been killed by them. And just thinking about her made him feel less motivated to sleep. For sure, he’d have nightmares of her again.
He tossed and turned.
It was already one-thirty.
Scott wanted to get out.
Jeremy would understand, right?
He slowly got up from the couch, stretched for a bit, got his sketchbook with the coloring pencils on top, and decided to exit the makeshift flat.
Scott could use some fresh air.
But at the first step towards the exit, he heard a sound. A sound that didn’t seem to have come from the flat. Scott turned around to find no one.
He then heard it again. This time, he inferred it to be some kind of laughter. Strange enough, he couldn’t see a ghost. He wouldn’t have been surprised if some kind of spirit had come to stop by. Scott wouldn’t blame the spirit either way. Jeremy’s flat was comfortable.
Shrugging to himself, he left.
Scott then decided to do his artwork on the rooftop of the building. The city was in slumbers. And so, he relaxed.
It was the first thing he thought of when he looked at those stars. When he found some kind of security under the night sky. It made him want to draw even more. It had been years since he felt the rush of excitement circulating around his system.
He began with light strokes with small circles and other shapes joining one another to form images. To form constellations which spoke of stories which cannot be simply seen by the eye. He drew his stories in the starry sky. On the inside, he’d like to think of himself as a voyager sailing across the Milky Way, finding his purpose. And other times, he’d like to think of himself as an actual artist, free from the world he had grown to hate so much, free to paint out his emotions with the sky as his canvas without having to harbor the judgement that would come after.
The world is so much more than that. Scott knew that all too well.
“There is something beautiful about the sky that I do not understand.”
He had sensed Jeremy from behind, which gave a jumpscare to the latter. Scott had expected the clashing of the ladder and wall to wake him up.
Scott turned to him while wearing the usual, timid smile on his face. Jeremy definitely didn’t seem pleased.
“You should go to bed.”
The shorter of the two let out a lighthearted laugh. As expected, it made Jeremy puzzled.
“Care to join me?”
In the end, Jeremy gave into his plea. Once again, silence had filled the atmosphere around them save for the clattering of pencils and occasional humming Scott would do impulsively.
Jeremy, however, was too occupied to even start a conversation.
How long had it been since he took time to watch the stars?
Of course, he cannot deny the fact that when he was young, he used to be obsessed with stars. The telescope became his most prized possession with his book of constellations as the close second. But all had been taken away from him when he was sent to boarding school. When he had to trade his dreams of being an astronaut for the world of academics. And just like that, he had forgotten how the sky really looked like. So for once, he was glad that he made time for this.
Remembering his childhood made him laugh.
Scott turned to him, his head tilted to his left. He seemed to be bubbling with such curiosity. “What is?”
Jeremy closed his eyes and hummed for a bit. For once, he felt free. He felt that he could do anything under the sky without having to worry about anyone else watching them. Strangely, he couldn’t recall the last time he experienced such emotion.
“I’m not used to this.”
He fell silent.
Jeremy heard a voice.
It was gruff. He couldn’t make out some of the words. But he felt those emotions swirling around, somehow tearing his heart into pieces. Once again, he felt drawn to it. Like chasing it was the only thing that seemed reasonable at that point.
He felt shivers running down his spine. He wasn’t sure if it was because of the freezing atmosphere surrounding London or the unexplainable fear that made his heart pound.
Jeremy felt sweat trickling down his face. And then suddenly, he felt himself flying.
“Do you feel it?”
Not even a second passed after that and then he found himself back to where he was just a few minutes ago. Back to his rooftop. Back to being with the rather odd man. Back to seeing the stars.
He swore that he just saw something. However, Jeremy couldn’t make it out.
The stars seemed to be even lonelier now.
And Jeremy still couldn’t understand why.
Of course, Scott wouldn’t let the awkwardness stay as it is.
It’s something that he had noticed. He didn’t know why but he wanted to get closer to the man. Something about wanting to see his blue eyes and stubborn, emotionless attitude everyday that made him feel...complete for once.
He had tried for weeks. When he heard about his business from colleagues and neighbors, his curiosity got the best of him. Unfortunately, downtown London seemed so far away from his own flat. But it didn’t stop him. His therapist had once said that when reaching for something you want seems reasonable, you just have to keep on following it.
And so it became his motto for the whole trip. It had only been a month and he still wasn’t used to the routines people followed in London or the places themselves. He wasn’t even used to living in a city. He had only grown to know about nothing but the ocean and the stars above it.
He missed home. He still does. And even the sketches and paintings he made weren’t enough to make up for his usual nightly ritual.
It was a favorite pastime that gave him more comfort than the blankets that had covered him just a while ago. He’d sneak out of his hut with some plates of sandwiches. After which, he’d find his favorite spot, under the coconut tree which stood proudly on the cliff just ten meters from his home where he could watch the waves at the best angle. And if he would feel like it, he would draw that ocean in different scenarios and timelines, unraveling all the wonderful stories that could be taken place right at the shore or in the middle of the seven seas if people just tried. If people can free themselves from the wickedness of society and just...be themselves. Be whoever they are and work towards to making their happiness a reality.
People live to find happiness. It was the only thing that made sense to Scott. What he didn’t understand, however, was why the depression stayed. Why he had been taking medicines and therapy for seven years when it wasn’t doing him anything good.
His big sister had once told him to wait. But Scott was tired of waiting.
He didn’t know how his depression started. But he could recall the times when he’d compare himself to his so-called successful siblings back in elementary. The nights that kept him awake all because he couldn’t stop thinking that unlike them, he’ll never get anywhere with his life. They were the doctors and lawyers that the world needed. And yet, they still perished. And yet, God let some stupid, depressed artist like him lived.
And so, he ended up migrating to London, hiding away from the world as an accountant. Yet even the numbers didn’t have a clue as to why he was still alive. Why he was spared from death. Why the world let him stay with this stranger he wanted to be friends with for one reason or another that he could not understand nor describe.
But just for this once, he wanted to stop thinking about those. He can worry about the medicines in the morning.
He felt his head landing on a shoulder. A shoulder that provided with an odd amount of security.
The last thing he saw before he blacked out were the stars.
The sudden collapse was enough to worry Jeremy.
It wasn’t that he was much of a worrywart. It was just that it was awkward. He wasn’t to used to this at all. He wasn’t used to having another friend or someone to watch the stars with.
Rather, he had lived his life in solidarity in a boarding school very far away from his home.
He barely saw home to the point that he forgot about it. He forgot how the walls have faded into yellow over time or how many flowers have grown in his mother’s garden.
Boarding school was a different world to the point that Jeremy himself was convinced that it was nothing but a factory to turn people into mindless clones.
Everyone was the same. And when he realized that, he thought to himself that it was wrong. It felt wrong to be the same as the others from routines to beliefs and everything in between.
But towards the end, he thought that it was good. That the only troublemakers were the people who tried to be different.
He wished that people were the same. That no one would ever feel left out just for being different.
Jeremy turned his attention to the shorter of the two, sleeping on his shoulder.
He wondered if he’s one of those troublemakers.
But even just looking at his face made him feel that something was wrong.
However, Jeremy couldn’t understand what was wrong in the way he thought or the meaning behind that feeling he had a while ago.
It was another one of those Tuesday evenings when the pub seemed to be quiet. Too quiet, perhaps.
Luckily, his Irish friend, Amy, visited for what it appeared to be the second time that month. So in some way, he was thankful to have been blessed with a helping hand and an actual friend.
He had met Amy sometime last year in the marketplace. She was a young girl of fourteen who apparently had run away from her abusive uncle. The owner, who took pity in the girl, offered her a job in the marketplace in exchange of a just wage and a flat all to herself. But since her flat and other expenses were covered, she now uses her money to send herself to school.
Jeremy couldn’t help but feel proud at the life Amy was living. It’s rather rare to find people with that kind of ambition.
Not only that but Amy is a kind person. And out of all the people he had met, he considers her as his only true friend.
They had just finished talking about the marketplace fiasco from last week (something that involved old ladies demanding for the discount they deserve) when Jeremy spotted Scott entering the pub with another stack of papers.
“Welcome!”Amy exclaimed. She then turned to Jeremy. “Tend to the poor guy first, yeah?”
And so he did.
Scott looked at him with awe. “H-Hello, sir!”
Jeremy wasn’t sure if he had taken happy pills or what. But over the weeks, he had been slowly warming up to the boy. So it wouldn’t hurt to be friendly towards him, right?
“Please. Address me as Jeremy, lad.”
Scott seemed surprise at the change. Jeremy couldn’t understand why he was doing this either. But he felt that doing this was right. Reasonable. And yet, he couldn’t explain why.
But Scott let it pass. “The usual, si-I mean, Mr. Jeremy.”
They were definitely going to work on that.
From the corner of his field of vision, he found Amy staring at him with a huge grin.
He groaned. Not this again.
Jeremy watched as Amy glided to their table, trying to mask her intentions with an innocent look.
“U-Um...Mr. Scott, was it?”
Scott jumped a bit due to panic before turning to his left to see the red-headed Irish girl smiling. He gave a nervous chuckle and then proceeded to look at Jeremy once again.
“I-Is this your girlfriend?”
And that’s the one thing Jeremy wished Amy didn’t hear. Immediately, the girl gave the older of the two a headlock, sneering at the question she just heard.
“Are you calling Jeremy a pedophile?!”
Scott was speechless. He was definitely not in a good position at that moment. The lack of flexibility made things worse.
“I-I’m sorry, miss. I-I just didn’t know!”
“Or are you calling me old?”she then asked in a more sinister voice. By the time Scott was ready to burst into tears, he felt someone pulling away from them.
“That’s enough, you two! Back to work!”
Amy giggled and left. Scott just sat and looked down. Jeremy sighed
“I’m sorry about her. She sometimes becomes like that.”
A glass on the table. The foam of the beer brimming from it. Scott took his first sip and sighed.
“No. I-I think I did put her in a bad spot...or something…”
Jeremy let him be after that. He scurried to Amy who had just finished cleaning.
“I think you should go back now, lass. Your manager might scold you.”
She glanced at a nervous and stressed Scott before going back to Jeremy. “Y-Yeah. Tell him I’m apologizing. Shouldn’t have been that impulsive.”
With that, she left.
Jeremy went back to the counter, expecting to find another whole set of numbers laid out in front of him.
But it seemed that that wasn’t what made Scott stressed.
He saw swirls of colors clashing onto one another, forming a golden harp, the seemingly transparent clouds, the lonely cries of an angel up high in the sky.
Jeremy never understood art. How one can get easily stressed over it.
It was about expressing one’s self, right? So why was he having a hard time doing so? Why was he this tense?
“Having a problem there?”
Scott is an artist. It’s obvious from the way he describes things to how he imagines the world. He sees it in his eyes. The radiant light and hope that Jeremy sometimes wished he had as well.
But at that moment, he wasn’t feeling fine. Jeremy did the only thing he could think at that point.
He quietly went behind Scott and held his left hand. This, of course, surprised the latter. Even Jeremy himself was surprised once he realized what he was doing. He wanted to let go. It was getting awkward.
“No. Just stay.”
He followed the voice. He repeated what it just said. For the first time, he felt that things were going okay from there.
“No. Just stay. You can’t work if you’re being this tense.”
Unlike Scott, Jeremy is right-handed. But he still tried to manage.