Standard warnings apply. Actually, the site already has warnings. Just to make sure, here're more. ^_^ Most of this is actually fiction but some situations have been taken from real life. The names of the characters are made up/fictional - if there are people with the same names somewhere out there, that is purely coincidental.

As with most stories, the author retains all rights to this story. Without the permission of the author, no reproductions or links to other sites are allowed.

This deals with male homosexual love. If you are not of legal age (18 or 21, it depends actually where), or if you live/are in a place where material such as this is illegal, or if you are simply offended by homosexuality and/or homosexual themes, please leave.

This story has no sex scenes in it. ^_^

Chapter 8: Return

It's been 4 years.

Looking out at the skyline of Manila - the Philippine Capital - as the plane descended, I couldn't help but see how so much changed in those 4 years. Where there once was a military base now stood a couple of glass towers, which I later found out to be condominiums. New villages sprouted where there used to be cogon grass.

In spite of all the gray stillness I saw, I knew that it was probably chaos down there. The sounds wouldn't be muted by the distance. The colors wouldn't be drowned out by the rain.

Just peering down at all the cars caught in traffic on one (new) highway made me dizzy. They were like tiny ants from up above where I was.

So much has changed.

And I couldn't help but think I might not be ready to take them all.

Of course, not all of the changes were structural. And not all of them I hit me just now.

I was orphaned less than a week ago. One of the reasons I was flying back was to help around with the services, deal with all the relatives, the legal matters - the usual. Although I really don't know what "the usual" is in this case.

If I think about it, it was eerie - the way things went. My parents were trying to get the annulment over and done with - but so much red tape got in the way. Of course, their case had to be brought to the Church, priests and canon lawyers were giving their two-, three- and four-cents' worth. It became all so complicated and lasted longer than they wanted so they started looking at the prospect of divorce.

Now, divorce is much cleaner. Things are done in a civil court and when the judge says, "Okay, you're not married anymore," you become single again.

I guess it's simpler that way. All they had to do was go to the US since it wasn't allowed in the Philippines. Besides, with divorce, you don't have to deal with nullifying your vows before God. Or making up stories like, "I wasn't lucid when I said, 'I do.'" Or worse, "My husband kidnapped me and forced me to marry him or else he would burn our house down and send my brothers and sisters away to live as hermits in the Gobi Desert."

One night, my parents decided to meet up to talk about plans of pushing through with divorce instead. Since dad didn't really like talking about serious business over dinner, they started - and ended - pretty late. On their way out of the restaurant, mom was about to enter a cab parked nearby when dad offered to bring her home instead. Public transportation wasn't very safe at that time of the night.

Ironic, isn't it?

As soon as their car pulled out of the parking lot, another car came flying out of nowhere. Metal met metal. Glass broke.

Everything happened so fast that the few bystanders idling around seemed to have forgotten how to use the telephone to call an ambulance until it was too late.

Maybe it was some strange divine justice working since they were still technically able to obey their vow "'Till death do us part." It kind of spooked me.

Since she moved out into her own apartment, Lara didn't find out about everything before they were gone. Of course, I found out even later.

Walking out the exit into the warm air of late June, I was assaulted by the calls of taxi drivers trying attract more passengers. It was refreshing to see that not everything changed - at least, not radically. Porters approached me asking, "you-know-speak-English?" trying their best to emulate Oriental accents. For fun, I'd tell them, "man tu pai gow," and see them scratch their heads in wonder. Of course, it didn't mean anything at all but that wasn't the point.

Even if things were so new, so foreign to me, I was home. As home as I could ever be.

Though it's sad if I think about it... feeling like a stranger in the land you were born in.

Lara came to pick me up from the airport. We really hadn't seen each other for the past 4 years so I was starting to get worried that maybe she'd forgotten how I looked. The last time we talked on the phone, I just said that my flight would be touching down at 3 pm and, considering customs and all, I'd probably get out by 4.

A wall clock read 4:30. She's late.

Before deplaning, I started picturing her waving a placard that said, "Ossie! This is me, Lara! Your sister!" high over her head. Then again, that wasn't really her style.

It was raining. Traffic usually gets really bad when it rains. Even people-traffic - where I stood, right outside the airport doors, people were clambering for shelter under the awnings and structures that jutted out from the second floor.

It would've been quite easy to get lost actually. I was just hoping that my white shirt could make me stand out. Lara should've been wearing white as well. Tradition says that white is the color of mourning.

Standing in the crowd, I asked myself again, "Why did I come back?" Yes, there was the matter of dealing with the death of my parents and all its implications. But after that, I really didn't plan on going back to the States.

At least, not yet.

Squashed in between brown boxes filled with God-knows-what, deafened by sounds of sweaty people screaming at each other - trying to find each other, deafened even more by a chorus of a cars honking on the street nearby - all these just sharply contrasted with how things were on the other shore of the Pacific. Nearby a child was bawling while being scolded by his mom. It made me wonder if he could actually hear her over all the noise he was actually contributing to. Things weren't like this at all over there. At least, I didn't experience anything like this there. Here crossing a road is like racing for your life. There motorists actually stop - the moment your foot hits the pavement, it's like pressing a "pause" button on all vehicles.

Was there anything left for me here or was I starting from scratch?

Before I could answer myself, a heavily-tinted window came flapping down, "Ossie! Get in here, quick!"

It's about time, I thought. Throwing my luggage into the trunk, I couldn't help but be amazed at Lara's... car. Technically, it wasn't a car but an SUV.

"Nice... car." I couldn't really find another word that fit. 'Nice SUV' sounded off somehow.

"Really? Thanks. It's Jack's." She gave me wide smile as I literally rolled into the passenger seat. Jack was her boyfriend. Though he was rather older, he really wasn't criticized much by our parents - yes, mother and even father - since he was, to put it bluntly, loaded. He was heir to a company that acted as the local distributor of Japanese cars.

Although to say that Lara became a success just because of that wasn't really fair. I found it interesting, really, what happened to her. She graduated two years ago with honors, surprisingly - considering that half her college life was practically spent on going from one social function to the next. Soon after, she landed a job in a prestigious consultancy firm where she gives marketing advice for multinationals.


That's where she met Jack. And that's how she was able to afford getting her own place.

Even more interesting was how close we seemed to get after I left. Since mom and technology didn't really enjoy each others' company (once the CPU emitted smoke after she spilled some of her coffee into it), she asked Lara to write to me and 'report' to her how I've been doing. At first, our correspondences were awkward.

How are you; fine; good to hear; thanks for writing.

Then things slowly became friendlier. She started telling me about frustrations with school, then with work. She told me how much she wanted me to be there for her graduation. How she needed help with such and such subject. How she met Jack, making me envious. Of course she never knew that I was.

It's as if we didn't have to compete for anyone's attention anymore.

"You look great," I said.

"Really? You? Well," she giggled, "you've put on weight."

Ouch! "I haven't!" I didn't... at least, I didn't think so, "have I?"

She smiled. "You look great too, Os." Aside from the new hair, the sleek - but also white - get-up, it was still her. She was still the same Lara I grew up with.

"How're things here?"

She looked up, scrunching her brow a bit. "Uhm... let's see. Things are okay at the memorial centers. It's good that we decided to have dad's and mom's separately. Tonight I'll be over at mom's, you'll have to stay at dad's. The reservations have been made for Saturday - that's two days from now. Dad's funeral first. Then in the afternoon, mom's. And then..."

Just a minute. That's how I sounded!

"Wait, stop!" Thrown forward, I felt the seatbelt tighten around my chest. The car behind us blasted a long honk. "Why did you do that?"

"You told me to stop!" She retorted.

Blushing, I said, "I meant stop talking. I'm not a client you know."

We burst out laughing at the stupidity of it all, drowning the car horn behind us.

As soon as we started moving again, I couldn't help but ask her, "So tell me, since when did you get so... efficient?"

"Someone had to be efficient when you left, right? I mean, mom couldn't keep up with the bills and all..." she trailed off.

We were quiet for a while. For that while I thought of how mom relied on us to keep bills on track, how she secretly and expertly did her investigation of dad's womanizing... somehow memories like that have a silencing effect.

It's nice though, how Lara and mom got along after I left. I guess they only had each other to cling to and no one else.

"So," I started, "how's everything else? How's everyone?"

"Oh yeah. I never got to mention, Ciara got married to some German guy. They're in Europe now."

Ciara's married? "Really? What does the guy do?"

"If I'm not mistaken, I think he's with the entertainment industry."

Probably a makeup artist or a clown. Who could forget Ciara, who always left an afterimage of blue, violet and green when she turned around. Her makeup. Sometimes, when I think about her laughing, I imagine her face being clouded by green smoke.

I waited for her to say something more but she didn't. So gently, I prodded, asking about relatives and some of her friends. She'd answer animatedly. They're like this, they're like that. They're happy. They're moving to Bolivia.

But, for some reason, I couldn't bring myself to ask about him.

As I had expected, traffic was horrible. We were stuck in the same spot for almost an hour already. When it rains here, the floodwaters rise pretty well. Too well. If I remember correctly, sometimes, when it pours, some parts of Manila could get submerged under waters that could readily engulf a car. Aside from that, when rainwater forms mini-swimming pools in the middle of the road, it gets difficult to spot potholes or nails and other sorts of debris. Besides, kids sometimes make those mini-swimming pools real swimming pools by wading in them. This leaves cars gravitating towards the center of the road - where there used to be 3 lanes, cars would converge to make just 1.

"The rains have come," Lara sighed, "I guess summer's really out, huh?"

I mumbled from where I leaned on the window. I was trying to get some sleep - but what Lara said just made me realize:

I missed summer. Since I flew out of the States in June, when summer was just coming in, I didn't have it over there. And since I got in during the rainy month of June, I just missed it. Summer vacation had just ended. It wasn't summer anymore.

I wouldn't be having summer this year. And it was sad: summer is the season for firetrees.

Since I didn't really have any place to go, I opted to stay in my old room, back in the old house on the street where dogs never stopped barking at night and men sang karaoke in the open-air bar at the corner. Soon I found that the open-air bar had been closed down and an air-conditioned facility had been put up in its place. "Shoo Shoo Night Club." Nice name. I bet it draws the customers in like flies.

"Are you sure you don't want to come stay with me?" Lara asked as I hauled my luggage into the house.

"Yup." I smiled back.

My old car was still there. I didn't need my little sister to babysit me.

Besides, I didn't want to intrude. She had her own life now. It's about time I rebuilt my own. Wherever I rebuilt it, whether it would be here, or somewhere in America, I'd have to start again. That much I knew.

It was around 8 in the evening by the time I got home. Lara and I just drove through McDonald's to grab dinner. Though I felt tired, the feeling of nostalgia hit me as soon as I got in. Just as if it were hiding behind the door, waiting for me to take one step into the house, wielding a mallet. As soon as my sole made contact with the linoleum... WHACK!

Everything just came flooding into me. The old staircase that I knew still seemed to hold up the "altar," the little couch in the middle of the room, the smell of incense sticking to the concrete - even the feel of the doorknob.

I felt like my senses were reconfiguring themselves, some part of my brain blinking, "ready... ready... 4... 3... 2... 1... YOU'RE BACK!"

"Well, this it," I told myself.

Although I did tell Lara that I'd be resting - that I'd probably go to the wakes tomorrow when I'd have the energy to actually talk with people, I suddenly felt energized.

Up the stairs, I found my room had been transformed into a mini-storage area. Seeing as Lara's room was virtually empty, except for a bed, I pushed all the boxes there, freeing up space in my room. Luckily, I found clean sheets in the chest at the foot of my parents' bed.

I didn't really want to sleep in my parents room. It seemed a bit... sacriligious. Or scary. For all I knew, their spirits were sleeping there. Isn't it funny how I still think of it as their room even if it was only mom who'd been using it for the past how many years now?

They say it's bad luck to sweep at night, but I didn't really want to sleep in a dirty room so I just ended up sweeping and dusting.

By the end of my housecleaning - or rather, room cleaning - frenzy, my room was just as I remembered it. My telescope still sat at the windows, as if it were patiently waiting for me to return. The bed still lay there, welcoming me into its soft, comforting embrace.

Fatigue had finally caught up to me, and I gently slumped into bed.

Then, looking up, I saw them. I wasn't really thinking about them, I wasn't even paying much attention to them. But still they were there.

The stars. A few had fallen off, I could see. Some spots of my ceiling were bare and lightless. Taurus lost one of his horns.

At that point, though, I wasn't sure if I was even looking at Taurus. The demarcation line between the two sides we each set up seemed blurred. The stars and constellations just blended in with each other.

Though I was tired, I couldn't drift off to sleep. I just gyrated slowly in bed trying to find the most comfortable position, while somehow removing the glow-in-the-dark stickers from my line of vision. It must've been funny, seeing me sluggishly move an arm, or a leg, up, around, twisting my torso. If I filmed myself and put it on fast forward, I probably could have made the latest dance craze.

In the end, I gave up. Creeping towards the telephone - even though I wasn't disturbing anyone, I got used to being quiet - I dialed a familiar number.


But an unfamiliar voice answered.

>>> Hello everyone. First of all, thank you for your feedback about Similar Differences. I didn't think I'd be working on SD again - but based on a lot of your messages - some vehement, most subdued - there really wasn't much closure to the story. After reading these 7 chapters after more than 2 years, I realized that I felt the same way. So I decided to continue with Osmond and Kyle and see where they go. Thank you for helping me realize that. Although I do admit, I'm a bit worried about writing itself as a whole - SD was the last piece of fiction I wrote and like I said, I finished it more than 2 years ago. I'm out of practice, I guess.

I'd still like to hear from you and what you think. I hope you enjoy the last few chapters. :)