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 9: Communication Error

You'd think with all the advancements in technology, we'd get to talk - or at least correspond - daily. Actually we did. For a year. A year and a half. The time differences were really helpful. When I'd wake up, he'd probably be having dinner or close to having dinner. Well, maybe not exactly. But when he'd wake up, I was pretty sure I'd be getting ready for bed. Or settling down in my room.

E-mail is a godsend. The first few months, I'd even get to write him twice a day. When I woke up, I'd reply to him; before I slept; I'd reply to him again.

But soon the letters didn't fill my mailbox as much anymore. Sometimes I'd apologize for having to do schoolwork. Sometimes he'd say sorry for having been too tired to write after getting home late. Apparently, he only has trouble saying sorry face to face.

But then, eventually we even forgot to apologize to each other for not replying for a day, or two, or three. The letters got less and less.

Until they stopped altogether.

Still, I kept sending him mail - greetings for his birthday, or Christmas or Groundhog Day even if there were no groudhogs in the Philippines. (In their place, we have rats as huge as housecats.)

To these, he wouldn't even reply. No thank you. No hey, how are you?

It made me wonder if his account were broken. But then again, if that were the case, the message would come flying back to me, wouldn't it?

They did get to him. I was sure of that.

Only, I wasn't sure why he didn't reply at all.

Of course, I rationalized everything by thinking: there must be a communication error somewhere. I just hoped it was in terms of hardware or software and nothing more.

The services went swimmingly. Well as swimmingly as funeral services can go. Seeing all those people - many I didn't even know - come pay their respects to either my mom or dad made the heaviness of everything lighten a bit.

When I go, I'd like that. People from my distant past coming up, saying, "He was a good man."

Of course, this came with the danger of having people come up to me and ask, "Why aren't your parents having their wakes together?" It seemed like some of them came from the very, very distant past. I had to update them then and there of the... marital situation.

Lara and I agreed that it was best that they'd have separate arrangements, considering my mom's family isn't all that crazy about my dad's after their nonchalance over the concubinage.

Isn't that such a sanitized term? "Concubinage." It sounds like "appendectomy."

Still, it probably wouldn't have been all that nice to have it at the same place and the same time. Though it would look like they were still together, I don't think mom and dad would appreciate that blatant lie. And I don't think my uncles and aunts would go wild about it.

Well, maybe they would've gone wild. Really wild. Like National Geographic wild.

Every time the phone would ring, in the back of my head I'd be hoping to hear him on the other end of the line. But that dream bubble would pop whenever I'd hear a priest or some distant relative.

After the two burials, the madness of everything didn't end yet. Lara and I had to fix the inheritance and everything. Considering that inheritance tax is pegged somewhere at 60%, we were lucky to get anything at all. What I got was just enough to tide me until I was able to find work.

At least, I hoped it was enough. If not, I'd have to touch my savings, which hopefully earned some interest while I was away.

Then it hit me: starting from scratch is harder than I thought it would be.

"How're you settling in?" Jack asked.

"Oh, everything's fine." I smiled back.

One night, Lara invited me over for dinner with the assurance that she wouldn't be cooking. Just the three of us in their flat, seated on a small circular glass table. It was peaceful really. I felt a calmness being there. Everything about their place just made things feel softer - the fake fur rug (at least I hope it was fake), the cream Venetian blinds, even the brown leather couch.

I didn't even feel a tinge of jealousy seeing Lara and Jack together.

Jack was really nice, actually. He had helped out a lot with the services, calling flower shops and priests for us. Since his family owned the company he worked for, he could easily get out in spite of regular working hours to help us with whatever we needed.

Lara was really lucky to find someone like him. I didn't even think of saying, when I first heard his name, how much "Jack" made me want to look for a "Queen," a "King" and an "Ace."

Their flat had a balcony at made you feel as if you were one with the skyline - part of the mirror-like windows of the gray concrete buildings.

Lara and I stepped out for a while after dinner. "Os, you really shouldn't be doing the dishes. You're the guest."

"It's the least I could do, you know." My hands were all soapy already when she came into the kitchen to drag me away from the sink. Jack followed in right after, ready with cleaning gloves.

She smiled. "Well, how do you like him?"

"You're lucky." I smiled back. "Really lucky."

"Thanks," she stared out at the building right in front of us, her profile white in the moonlight. "I know I am." We were quiet for a while before she started again. "How about you? Did you meet anyone abroad?"

"Not really..." Looking back at my social habits over there, I couldn't help but think of how anti-social I seemed. Maybe not really anti-social. Just distant. I was always frantically trying to get home, to check my e-mail. Well, maybe not all the time. As usual, I was consumed with having to study. I didn't really mix well with org life over there, but in general things were okay. Sure I made friends. But none of them did get very close to me. I'll just chalk it up to cultural differences - at least that way I didn't have to think of myself as "anti-social."

"No one?" She grinned. "Well, that's okay." After a while, she added, "You know, I'm surprised you haven't asked me about Kyle."

This I wasn't really expecting from her. Feigning ignorance, I asked, "Why would I ask about him?"

She turned to me this time, looking at me squarely on the face, as if trying to gauge my reaction. "Os, I'm not stupid."

"What are you talking about?"

"Come on, Os. When the rumors in school came out, I doubted they were true. Really. But the way he hugged you before you left? And the way he was crying on the way home? Os, I've known him longer than you did - and I never saw him cry before that." She said.

She said everything slowly. It was like she was a little girl talking to her teddy bear. Maybe the calming atmosphere of the whole flat just got infused into her blood.

Still I felt trapped. She was between me and the sliding door leading back inside. The only other exit in the balcony involved an 18-floor drop.

"Well," my voice cracked, "we were close friends."

"That's what I thought too," she said, "until you missent me an e-mail that was meant for him."

"What?" I croaked.

"Yeah. You did. It said 'Kyle' on top and did mention something along the lines of 'I love you' somewhere at the end."

"What?!" At this point, I couldn't believe what I was hearing.

"Relax, it's okay." Flipping her hair and turning to look at the sky this time. "It's okay. I figured it was a mistake. The time you sent it - I checked near the subject line - it was sometime between 3 or 4 am. At that time, anyone can make mistakes while clicking away. It only happened once anyway."

Embarrassed, I looked down at the street.

"Os, it's okay."

I felt like a lost little kid and I didn't even know why. "So..." I tried to begin, "how is he?'

She sighed. "I don't really know. Last thing I heard about him, he moved out of his mansion at Orchard Park and into the helpers' quarters which is actually not so shabby itself. You've been there - you know that separate house beside the garage?"

I nodded. It was all too familiar. Water in my eyes started clouding the figures on the street.

"He's having the large house rented out to some old rich lady and he's living off that. Well, that and the income of the other companies his dad used to own."

"Used to?"

She nodded. "Didn't he tell you his dad died? About a year ago?"

I shook my head. "We stopped writing," I paused. "I don't know why."

"Oh Os." At that point, I was crying. "Shh..." She pulled me close and hugged me.

I can't remember when the last time I hugged my sister was.

So he moved out. That's why someone else answered the night I first dialed.

It was a cranky old lady who said something about getting more sleep. Naturally, I tried again - I thought maybe I pressed a wrong button or two. But when the same ornery voice answered, I didn't even bother saying "hello."

At least I knew he was still around.

But I didn't know how to get in touch with him.

Visiting the university brought back wave after wave of memories. Like the city, I found new structures - or old ones that were renovated so they'd seem "new." I figured that the best shot I had for employment would be at a school - considering that I wasn't able to pursue a medical degree and that I had to settle for a pre-med Science/Psychology degree.

Stepping into the Psychology department, I immediately noticed the name "Vergara" followed by a Ph. D. So she's a doctor now... and the department chairperson. I almost didn't recognize her though she smiled when she saw me.

"So you're back, Mr. Chan."

"Yes ma'am. How have you been?"

"I'm doing fine, thank you." She no longer had a regular cubicle - rather she had her own room. "Although something tells me you're here not just to ask how I am doing." She smiled.

"Well, actually," I blushed, "actually ma'am, I was wondering if there were still slots open. I mean, if you still need teachers?"

Fixing her glasses, she just said, "I'm sorry Osmond, but not this sem. The term has already started."

If they didn't hire in between terms, I probably would have a difficult time finding jobs in other schools as well.

"But," she said, "if you give me a copy of your transcript, I think I can arrange to have a teacher's assistant. And then maybe next sem, you can get a number of classes yourself." Again, she smiled.

I don't know how many times I thanked her. A teacher's assistant didn't really get much, if any at all - but if it were a stepping stone to becoming a teacher, then the arrangement couldn't be better.

"Thank you ma'am!"

I happened to have a copy of my transcript right then and there.

"I see you just continued what you were doing over here."

I felt my face flush at the comment.

"Very well," she said, "with grades like this, I don't see why you should have any problem applying for the next term."

Since I didn't have much to do, or rather, since I had all the time in the world, I decided to fix the house up. Surprisingly, things were still functional - there wasn't any need for my inept carpentry skills at all. (Which is good.) The eaves just needed clearing, the ceiling didn't spring leaks when the rains came, the doors were still on their hinges.

Things were still a-okay.

All I had to do was dust and sweep rooms, which I had already done.

Of course, this didn't help me with my time problem. Having too much of it is boring. I tried to do research at the university after being awarded "teacher's assistant" status, until I found out I wouldn't be getting my ID for a number of days, owing to the late application process.

Aside from that, well, I actually didn't know what to do research on.

There were just too many things I wanted to get into. And I couldn't get into any one of them.

Isn't it funny? So much you'd like to do and you can't start on any of them because you're so busy choosing?

Besides, it was 11 a.m. on a Sunday. Sundays are meant to be lazy days.

So I went out.

Walking through the mall was surprisingly refreshing. There weren't many shoppers yet - I think they invade at around 12 noon. Even then, they'd be in the restaurants. Usually things got crowded at around 1 or 2 p.m.

Since it was getting too cramped yet, I just allowed myself to wander around. Unfortunately, window shopping isn't really an ego-boosting pasttime. You get to see all these great things, all bright and shiny on their display cases, but you know you can't afford them.

Eventually I got tired and started for my car. That's when I heard a familiar voice. The one I was looking for on the phone.

Since he stood right under a sunroof, it was like he was bathed in light, which reflected off his hair. He had just come out of a store - carrying bags of I don't know what.

Then he saw me.

For a split second, I didn't know what to say. Was I supposed to say hi? Or hello? Or maybe I should just launch into how are you?

"Kyle." I ended up muttering.

Everything else just seemed to become blurred. In my line of vision, only he was clear. Everything else just melted away.

Clearing his through, he mumbled, "Os."

I ignored the stiffness of his voice - for a while, I wanted to run up to him and hug him. But then we were in public. And I didn't know what happened to him for the longest time. I didn't even know what was going on at that moment while both of us were just staring at each other.

Kyle didn't change much at all. He still looked the same - only his haircut changed. Instead of having his hair bouncing all around, he had it cut short. He still looked good though.

"Hey, how're you doing?" Talk about suppression.

"I'm," he started, "I'm good." He continued after a while, "You seem to be doing well."

There was a cutting, icy formality in his tone. Stammering, I just said, "Thanks." What happened?

Before we could continue any further, another familiar voice burst out of the hazy background.

"Osmond Chan?! Oh my God!"

Sara came running - and she did what I was supposed to do to Kyle. She literally jumped and hugged me, smiling and laughing.

"Oh wow! What're you doing here? When'd you get back? When're you going back to the States? How's your sister?"

There were just so many questions, I couldn't answer any of them at all.

I did notice though, a gold ring with a solitary diamond on it draped around one of her fingers.

"Why didn't you tell us you were coming back? Oh this is great!" She looked absolutely giddy. You'd think she was in love with me. "Kyle, isn't this great? We should have lunch or dinner sometime!"

Kyle just shrugged. "Sara, we should get going."

"Kyle, when was the last time you saw Ossie? Mom and dad won't mind it if we're a bit late!"

Mom and dad?

Sounding tired, he just said, "Let's just go." Then he turned to walk away, out of the sunlight and into the darker hallways.

"Oh. Forget him." she said, immediately handing over a calling card. "Ossie, give me a call sometime, okay? We have lots to talk about!" She winked.

Stunned, I just watched her run off to Kyle's side, and grab his hand. They weren't really so far for me to not notice that both their hands had glittering rocks.

I didn't know why I couldn't move. It was like I was paralyzed or like my shoes were welded to the floor.

I didn't know why he was so cold to me.

He didn't even ask me how I was doing.

I took the calling card out, scared to see the name on it.

Sara Montemayor.

They're not married yet. At least, they weren't when the card was printed. Then again, Sara wasn't the type of girl who'd give out calling cards with her maiden name on it IF they were married.

Yes. In spite of the rings, something told me that they weren't married. Yet.

But nothing could explain why he acted that way.

I couldn't think of anything.

And I knew that I wouldn't be able to answer anything unless I gave Sara a call. Doing that, though, may give me answers that I might not be ready for. That much, I did know.

For a while, I stood helplessly, bathed in the pool of light.

All alone.

That's the 9th chapter of Similar Differences. I think the story will come to a close at chapter 11. I think. Anyway I hope you enjoyed reading. Thanks to those who've supported this series from the start. I'd love to hear from you - is my address. ^_^

Some of you have asked me if I have another story up. I do - it's under the Gay > College section. Entitled "Alone." It's under the "Alone-Series" directory here. ^_^