Chapter Four:

An Evening With the Abelardos

Jerry's house is approximately only fifty meters far from the doorstep of our house; more conveniently, it is just inside our residence. From the living room and looking through the sliding glass doors that immediately leads to the pool, you can get an ample view of the house.

The house was built almost two centuries ago during the Spanish colonial era. It is a Spanish-Filipino style manor where the first floor is raised and the upper floor is surrounded in large windows, having capiz shell panes that filter the light from the outside. Above the windows are vents, and small shuttered windows below, called ventanillas, both designed to let air in when the large windows are close. It's mainly a woodhouse but the foundation or lower walls are finished in masonry.

It has been retouched and repainted to retain its classic grandeur; and it has also been the oldest and last of the ancestral edifices of my father. While it may be of familial value, dad had decided to give it to Jerry and Lynn, and the parcel of land where the house stood as a gift to their silver wedding anniversary last year. Albeit, it's more likely a token of appreciation for the twenty years of service they have rendered to our family.

I shifted my gaze from the old manor to the stairs when I heard clattering sound of shoes. Pasting a cheerful expression on his face, Elwin descended the stairs in a jiffy; his hair was still a little damp, and he was clad in a white floral shirt, dark soft jeans, and red sneakers. He combed his hair frantically with his fingers above his forehead as he bolted, "I'm ready."

Like me, he has an auburn hair, a pair of sapphire irises, and long nose bridge, all taken after our mother who's of strong American descent. We also have the same built. Our brown complexion, however, is taken after our father; our mother has a fair complexion in contrast. The only difference between us is he's an inch taller than me, and I personally think he's the better looking -not that I'm not.

I tossed out of the divan where I had my abdomen lying against, looking up and down at him from head to foot, giving him a weird out face, and making a slight curve at a corner of my lips. He sprinted down towards me and sardonically, I said, "We're not going to a party."

Seriously, Jerry's house is just within the residence; and, it's not like we're having a formal dinner. On top of that, this might be the hundredth time we're going to eat dinner there. So I'm only wearing a cozy tee-shirt and a denim pants.

"Hey, the last time we ate dinner there was like what... three years ago? I wanted to think of this as a special dinner," Elwin retorted matter-of-factly.

"Whatever," I rolled my eyes. I don't think I'll consider this to be special. Jerry will try to pry into my emotional distress while I deal with Reb's anger, which is intended for me, at the same time. Both of us direly need to attend anger management program.

We exited the house beside the pool area, and descended the stairs leading to the guest parking lot as Elwin wrapped his arm around my shoulders. Landing our feet on the last step, I saw the twins walking towards our direction. I stood still, thinking what to do or how to react. I was absolutely not prepared for this. Reb's brows furrowed, seemingly indicating that he didn't like seeing me.

"What's up, men?" Elwin walked slowly towards them, exchanging high fives.

"Yeah, what's up?" Mario greeted back with a smirk.

For a second, Reb's wrinkled forehead smoothened, smiling half-heartedly at Elwin, but his forehead wrinkled and his brows furrowed back when he returned his eyes at me. The awkwardness of the situation made me feel uneasy. I wanted to say sorry to Reb, but I was uncertain if it's an opportune time. Things happened just a few hours ago, which tell me that Reb might have not cooled down yet, especially if he haven't gotten over my break up with Liz yesterday.

But heck! It doesn't matter if he's still mad at me. I know for sure he'll come around. So whether it's right time or not, I have to say sorry to him because it's the right thing to do, right? It's the only important thing that needs to happen right now.

Reluctantly, I inched towards Reb and greeted him, "Hey."

Chiding me would have been the first reaction I had expected from him; yet, surprisingly, he greeted me back, "Hey."

Okay, so it's a good time after all. But knowing Reb since time immemorial and moody that he is, he has to sleep over his anger before he can gain his temper back. So this kind of attitude is kinda un-Reb. Anyway, don't get me wrong; I'm actually happy about it.

"Is that all you're gonna say?... Hey?" I asked him, exceedingly incredulous of his tamed response.

"Yeah," he managed a weak smile. "When I called you a jerk this afternoon, I felt you were sorry when you solemnly nodded. I saw the remorse in your eyes."

I nodded in agreement very slowly. Again, this wasn't what I had expected. This is so not Reb. Since when did he become an empath? Normally, ire and hatred blocked his logical thinking at such situations; thus, comprehending the words you say and reading the emotions encompassing the words were something I would consider a novelty.

"But you were right," I was squirming my feet, and I turned my head to the side, hiding the blush that was quickly spreading over my entire face, so he couldn't see it. "I'm a jerk, inarguably."

"Yeah, but I know you didn't mean to be. I have no idea what happened between you and Kian that caused your ire against him, but I'm hoping you'll let me understand. Maybe not now; I'll give you a little more time, but I really wanna know," Reb expressed, his voice a combination of melancholy and steadfast understanding.

"I wish I have the courage to tell you, but I think I'm not ready to share it with anybody anytime soon. It still hurts when I think about it," I said in a sullen voice.

"I understand. I'm not gonna push it. It isn't really my business anyway. But when you're ready, remember I'm ready to lend my ears," Reb said emphatically.

"Thanks."

The sedateness of the atmosphere was suddenly broken when Mario spoke. "Jeez guys, you're so melodramatic. It feels like I'm watching a gay movie," he squealed, donning an almost grimaced look on his face.

Reb glared daggers at his twin, and Elwin and I chortled at his remark. Mario simpered and tried to suppress a laugh. At least the dinner won't be a torture in the night for me, now that I've come to terms with Reb and my brother.

"You guys are okay now?" Mario inquired, noting the fact that I'm with my brother.

"Yeah, not talking to Sam was such a torment," Elwin cried, flashing a sheepish smile. So that's something to reckon. I didn't realize he was that distressed.

The four of us strolled down the pathway leading to the house. Mario opened the door as we reached there and shouted calling, "Mom, pop, we're home."

We went inside the house, the twins leading the way. Emerging from the kitchen, Lynn approached us with a huge smile, wearing her apron and holding a wooden ladle in one hand. The twin kissed her at the cheek and gave her a hug. "Hello my darlings, how was your day?"

Reb gave me a knowing look and quickly answered his mom, "You know that saying 'Tomorrow is another day of challenge?'..."

His mom raised an eyebrow and he continued, "... well, yesterday's tomorrow, which is today, is indeed a day o challenge." Then he looked back at me, giving me a mischievous smile and a frantic raise of his eyebrows.

Lynn gave him an are-you-okay-look, seemingly unimpressed with his son's play of words. Looking at Mario and then back at Reb, she said imperatively, "Okay, why don't you two make it more challenging by going to the kitchen and helping me prepare the food."

"I'm cool," Mario bolted, grabbing one hand of Reb as he led the way to the kitchen.

Lynn smiled at my brother and I as the twins left, and she gave us a hug. Honestly, the hug felt weird for me because we do see each other everyday, you know. "I'm so glad you're having dinner with us tonight, it's been so long since the last time we did."

Lynn is relatively short; she's only 5'3" with a long wavy black hair. As I've mentioned before, she's also our housekeeper, but she's mainly the house cook. Almost a year after getting married to Jerry, dad hired them as cook and driver, respectively, after meeting them in an evacuation center during a fierce typhoon in 1982, which had destroyed their home and livelihood. The couple is genuinely good-natured and wonderful people, that's why my parents loved them and transferred a piece of our land, as well as the ancestral manor to them. We, siblings, also considered them our second parents.

"We're also glad to have dinner with you, too," Elwin said, smiling. "I miss seeing the table fights Reb and Mario do."

"Well, that's nice to...," she was cut off by the sound of clanking cookware resonating from the kitchen. It seemed like the twins were wreaking havoc to Lynn's turf. "Oh, excuse me. I still need to finish preparing dinner."

"Sure, Lynn. Don't worry about us, we can take care of ourselves," I said, as she left for the kitchen.

I sat at the couch in the living room while Elwin paced across the room to check the photo displays. I turned the TV on and browsed the programming. Their house was already our second home. We played here when we were little, slept countless of nights, and did a thousand of stuffs; hence, doing whatever we feel like doing was absolutely fine.

"I love this picture," Elwin cried, holding a framed photo from a cabinet. I walked towards him and took a look of the photo he was talking about. It was a picture of the twins with the both of us riding on different gondolas during our summer vacation in Venice four years ago. We were acting like gunmen about to outlive one another.

"Yeah, that's cute," I smiled faintly.

"This one's funny," Elwin held another photo and showed it to me. Reb was dressed as prince while Mario wore a wizard costume for the Halloween. Elwin released a generous laugh, "Mario looked like he's constipated."

I laughed at his comment. Mario really did look awful in that shot. My brother took one step forward to take a look at the next photo. He was softly smiling at it, his mind seemed like flying back to a past memory. I took a few steps forward towards him to see the picture. I asked, "What's that?"

I could see the discomfort in my brother's eyes that came in immediately. I didn't know what to make of it, seconds earlier he was smiling then all of a sudden he looked agitated. Have I said something wrong? He flattened the frame to the cabinet, facing the picture down, and he mumbled as he walked out of the living room, "Just some high school picture."

The behavior he showed caused me to raise my eyebrows. Instinctively, I raised the frame to see what picture there was in it. As soon as I set eyes on it, my incomprehension was enlightened, seeing Kian on the photo. It was a picture taken during our school play when we were sophomores in high school (Elwin was a freshman, of course) -the twins were at Kian's left, and my brother and I were at his right. It was the last night I was together with Kian before I decided to distance myself from him.

I jumped at the voice of Jerry, who all of a sudden appeared behind me. He saw the picture I was holding and asked, "Why don't I see Kian coming here anymore? I love that kid."

"Who doesn't?" I muttered.

"What was that?" Jerry asked, he sure didn't hear it because it was almost a whisper.

"Uh... He's busy. You know... charity and stuffs," I lied. The only reason Kian doesn't come around anymore is because of me. He knew I didn't want him to.

"Oh well, when he finds time please tell him to drop by here sometime."

"Alrighty," I lied again. Well maybe I wasn't. I don't know… come what may.

"Now, about that thing bothering you," he began the prying as I suspected. He sat himself at the armrest of the couch, his face sober sided. If this conversation happened earlier, I could have said a number of lies. Good thing it didn't, and that his son and I have reconciled, so I have an alibi to say to him.

"It's nothing really. Reb and I had a petty altercation this afternoon, but we had patched things up tonight," I said as I leaned my back to the cabinet, and shoving my hands inside the pockets of my pants. Of course, it wasn't entirely the truth, but it's definitely one of the things that had been bothering me."

Jerry threw a satisfied look at me, folding his arms across his chest. Then he said, "I'm glad you boys could handle your individual differences. Just keep in mind that sound communication and open-mindedness are the keys to a successful and salubrious relationship."

Okay what was that second to the last word he said? Salubrious? I haven't heard that word before. Where did he get that? So a chauffeur had a better vocabulary than me? That's... disparaging. Oh, enough of this shallow ranting. Mr. Webster is always there to help me with that problem.

I gave Jerry a half-smile, "Thanks for the advice." He rose from the couch's armrest and tapped my shoulder. Seconds later, Lynn appeared in sight and told us the dinner was ready. Jerry and I tailed behind her to the dinner table.

Jerry took the head seat, the twins were already sitting beside each other at the right side of Jerry, and Lynn took the seat at his left. Elwin and I took sat beside Lynn. When everyone was properly seated, Jerry led to say the grace, and everybody fell into silence as we all bowed down our heads.

After saying grace, the twins started bickering like small children over the tail part of the lapulapu escabeche Lynn had cooked. They don't normally bicker except in front of the dinner table. They usually have the same likes in food, but other than that, they have disparate tastes.

Lynn spat their hands, giving them a glare. She sneered, "Stop that you two. One is supposed to give way to the other, that's how twins show their love to each other."

I tried to conceal the laugh wanting to come out of my mouth. My parents and the twins' parents were really great in giving cheesy and mushy advices; I wondered why they didn't become teachers -I'm positive they'll do great.

Mario had already yanked the tail part into his plate then he dished it out to his twin's plate, squelching him to a lethal crush afterwards that had left Reb flinching and gasping for breath. He gritted his teeth and teased, "I love you brother."

Reb had freed himself from the nefarious embrace and quickly elbowed Mario in revenge, making his twin fall to the floor with the chair. Mario shrieked in surprise, "Jesus Christ, Reb."

"Enough of your foolishness boys, you might end up in the hospital bed if you don't stop that," Jerry scoffed, outstretching his hand for Mario to cling on. Mario lifted the chair back to a sitting position and sat back quietly, then he stuck his tongue out at Reb; the other one retaliated in the same manner.

Things like that normally happen between the twins, when the whole Abelardo family eats together at home, though it's funny to know that now that they are in college, they still fight over food.

Have I mentioned that Lynn is an excellent cook? My mom enrolled her in culinary arts when she first started in our family. She can cook a variety of dishes from Filipino to Asian, Italian to American, and everything else. She had also made her own gourmet recipes -all were fantastically delightful. My mom had encouraged her innumerable times to start her own restaurant, but she always said that she's happily contended cooking for my family.

She had prepared a variety of dishes for this dinner, there's asparagus soup, Swiss steak, crispy chili chicken, lapulapu escabeche, macaroni and vegetables, healthy green salad, apricot bars, and fresh fruits. Maybe this is intentionally a special dinner, like my brother wanted to think.

"I know you're on a high protein diet that's why I prepared these especially for you," Lynn said cheerily, filling my plate with Swiss steak, lapulapu escabeche and rice. Then she reached for the crispy chili chicken and handed it to Elwin, "And I've cooked you your favorite food, honey, so go eat all you can."

Elwin's face spread a wide grin delightfully, tossing a piece of chicken into his plate. We all started eating our meal, keeping a conversation was Jerry, asking about our classes and activities in school. Occasionally, the twins bicker over the food; Mario would tease Reb by getting the same food, at the same time, when Reb scoops a serving. The elder Abelardos just shrugged them off as they have completely gotten used to their sons' manner in the dinner table, as have we.

Despite the liberal meal Lynn had prepared, the dishes were left almost clean of leftovers because the twins were such voracious eaters.

We settled in the living room after the dinner, talking and goofing around like we usually do. As soon as Lynn finished cleaning up the dinner table and the kitchen, she joined our rambunctious confabulations. The Abelardo couple is not really difficult to deal with because they also have the children's heart.

By nine o'clock, we decided to call it a night since we still have classes the next day. But before we left, Lynn asked us to pose for the camera. Reb and I posed in between Elwin and Mario, who were sticking horns above my head with his fingers and a tongue in Reb's neck so it appeared he was about to lick it, respectively, while the two of us were in a serious smile.

We said our goodbyes to them after the picture-taking and left the Abelardos. It felt good to end the night without anxieties to sleep over with. There's only one thing though that I need to do -apologize to Kian. But that's tomorrow's problem.

-----

A/N: Escabeche (of Spanish origin or from Persian sikbag; "acid food") refers to both a dish of poached or fried fish that is marinated in an acidic mixture before serving, and to the marinade itself. The dish is common in Peruvian Cuisine and popular in both Spanish cuisine and Provençal cuisine. The dish appears as far as Asia in the Philippines with adjustments to local food staples. It is usually served cold after marinating in a refrigerator overnight (or longer). The acid in the marinade is usually vinegar but can also include citrus juice. Escabeche is a popular presentation of canned or potted preserved fish, such as tuna, bonito or sardines. (source: wikipedia dot org)

The family Serranidae(including lapu-lapu)has over 70 species in Philippine waters. Their more common name groupers or garoupa (believed to be mutated Portuguese name from Malayan/Indonesian kerapu) is used for all members of the family They range from beautiful reds and oranges to delicious tasting black ones. They have distinctive spots that range from stunning blues to yellows, black, etc. They range in size from teeny tiny tots to some over two meters long and nasty mamas and papas. They are prized for their white, flaky, delicious meat that is excellent when steamed, fried or grilled (source: manilamarket dot com)

"