When he began counting from one again, so did she.
She saw him for the second time outside his father’s hospital room. She never told him, but just like how he had difficulty calling her his sister, she also had difficulty calling his father hers. And after he left, she felt like she had no right to share his father.
He had left because I was not his sister, she thought bitterly. How could I call his father my own?
But seeing him again that second time changed her mind. That day on his mother’s funeral, she had hugged him so tightly because she understood his lost. If he lost his father too, he would be all alone.
She couldn’t let that happen.
So she stepped toward him, thinking, You’ve got me—whether you want it or not.
She saw him for the fourth time in his agency’s recording studio, having forgotten the house’s key in Ian’s car when he drove her from hospital this morning. It was the first time she saw him in work. It was also the first time she was introduced to his band’s members, other than Raja.
Maybe she should have just asked him to deliver it instead of picking it up herself.
“I don’t know you have a sister!” The bassist—his name was Devin—exclaimed in a cheery tone. He was a ball of endless energy, clumsy and bright, tripping over cables and messing up scattered papers on the floor. “You two look alike!”
Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw him grimacing. She beamed though, because she was glad of being recognized as his sister. There were many times when she felt she didn’t deserve it. There were many times when she was afraid people would notice that they’re not siblings. The insecurity of not being his real family often defeated her.
“Why hadn’t you ever mentioned about her?” Their manager, a senior Ian apparently knew from college, mused. His glasses were crooked, but the way he wore his outfits was neat. He introduced himself as Candra.
Raja, in the corner of the room, stayed silent. So did he, pretending to be busy gathering papers from the floor.
She smiled tightly. No choice then, she thought. “I lived pretty far from here, so we couldn’t meet really often.” Here being their hometown. Here being the city his agency’s office was in. She didn’t like lying, but she also didn’t want their problems to be known by more people than it should. “We’re both busy after all.”
“So you move closer recently?”
“I finished my degree and then lived here.” She didn’t mention that she actually visited their father twice a month. She also didn’t mention that she was meeting up with Raja at least every two months, hoping that she would finally get a chance to talk to Ian again.
Neither of them also mentioned that Ian’s got an apartment in different town. How weird it was, to have an apartment in neighbouring town while your family house and workplace were actually in the same city.
But it seemed that everyone noticed how weird it was, because silence followed when Ian ushered her to leave the practice studio. And for the first time since she walked in, Raja moved.
“I’ll take her home.” He grabbed her hand and walked out of the room without waiting for anyone’s response.
She saw him for the tenth time at the bakery. She had worked there on weekends since the beginning of her senior year in college and the store itself, despite having been rebuilt after the fire accident years before, was still a familiar scene throughout her life. On the other hand, it was clear that it’s his first time being there. He was awkward, obviously uncomfortable amongst the excited customers and the busy cashiers. His outfit was too dark and unfriendly—there was a stereotype that said that leather jacket didn’t fit the lines of warm brown bread and colourfully frosted cake.
She smiled when he approached the kitchen’s door. He didn’t smile back.
“I am going back to the house,” he said, without saying hello. “Can you give me the key? I’m staying at home until tomorrow afternoon.”
“Sure,” she replied, because there’s nothing else she could say. The key was in her pocket, suddenly heavy.
It was one of those times when she realized that their dynamic was no longer the same. He was cold, even colder when she first moved to the house when they were children. The silence that filled their conversation was not about awkwardness and unspoken curiosity, but deliberate attempt of being apathetic. It was difficult. It was hurting her.
But she didn’t know how to fix it, so she prayed for time to tell. She gave him the key.
“Thanks.” He left.
She saw him for the thirty seventh time in the hospital, again.
This time, he wasn’t alone. Raja was with him, talking with a low voice. They both stood in the hallway in front of his father’s room, their posture rigid with hands in pockets.
Raja noticed her first and smiled. She started to smile back before her eyes rested upon his, and the warm, familiar feeling that always accompanied Raja’s presence around her disappeared.
“Hi,” Raja greeted, but neither of them said anything. She could feel her chest tightening.
It was already the thirty seventh time they met.
Or maybe it had only been the thirty seventh time they met.
The silence. The cold shoulder.
When would they melt? She tried to be patient, but her desperation might catch up sooner or later. What had she done so wrong that he couldn’t find it in him to forgive her?
There was no answer yet. So she chatted up Raja a bit, gave him a nod, and went inside.
The sight of his father, sleeping while snoring gently on the hospital bed, forced her to exhale.
Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.
She found it hard to breathe around him.
She didn’t see him for the next two weeks.
She didn’t know whether it was wrong for her to feel so relieved.
(After all, she was the one who asked him to come home.)
She saw him for the fifty sixth time after his concert tour.
She had turned on the TV in their living room and his song suddenly played. A TV reporter excitedly talked from behind the screen, mentioning numbers of the tickets his band had sold for a single concert tour. They’d gotten famous, she realized. They were on TV a lot of times now.
She thought of the time he had left home for the first time—that fight they’d had.
She wondered whether she had been in the wrong, sending him away with cold words.
But then again, he had been the one who wanted to leave.
Even after years, she still felt inadequate of being his sister, adopted or not.
She saw him for the one hundred and tenth time when the hospital called her.
He arrived there first.
“They took him to the operation room,” he said, looking straight at the closed double doors. “He asked for you.”
She kept her mouth shut, knowing better than to open old wounds.
(Even after years, she realized, he still felt inadequate of being his father’s son, biologically or not.)
She saw him for the one hundred and twelfth time, again, in the hospital. Surprisingly, he was not alone. And this time, he was not with Raja.
There was a girl beside her—she seemed to be one or two years older. Curly, short hair. Brown skin. Gray blazer. A pair of dark jeans, but without holes—not the kind he was usually sporting with. She looked pretty. Cute. Smart.
It took a moment, but Gita realized that it was the reporter from TV she had seen the other day.
“I’m Adenium,” she introduced herself. Her smile, unlike his, was genuine. “I’ve known Andrian for awhile.”
The mention of his full name made her curious. It indicated that awhile was not long. Maybe no more than six months.
“Gita,” she shook her hand, smiling back. “I’ve seen you on TV before.”
“Oh yeah. I’m a reporter—that’s how I met Andrian actually.”
Rumours. Gossips. She tried to search her memory, but nothing came up. News. A full cover on his band’s biography? Adenium was an unforgottable name, but she didn’t recognize it.
Maybe she didn’t follow news of him as closely as she’d thought.
“Are you here for an interview?”
Adenium looked mortified. “No, no—there’s no way I’m coming here if that’s the case.” When she took her hand back and positioned herself beside him again, Gita noticed the closeness that had escaped her attention before. “Andrian told me his father just had a surgery, so I decided to visit.” Her left hand was holding a bucket of flowers, something that Gita had—again—failed to notice previously. “I wish him a fast recovery.”
“Thank you.” Gita managed to maintain her smile, telling herself that the girl’s caring attitude was genuine.
(Then again, why would she think that it wasn’t?)
Her chest had tightened again.
She saw him for the one hundred and sixty eighth time on the TV again.
She didn’t need to search her memory again this time.
(She pretended not to be surprised.)
“Is it true?”
“…what does it matter to you?”
“I just want to say congratulations.”
“Thank you. There, you have it.”
It was the one hundred and sixty ninth time she saw him. His words were still cold. His eyes were still uncaring. The difference was that she had been the one who felt angry this time.
“You know, I begin to think that you want me to disappear from your life.”
He didn’t reply.
She saw him for the two hundred and twenty third time at the hospital.
She saw him for the two hundred and thirty seventh time at the dining room.
She saw him for the two hundred and forty first time at the bakery.
After the two hundred and forty third time, she began to ignore his existence.
Maybe it was the two hundred and seventy second time. She’s not sure. But he left just as she arrived, Raja’s exasperated sigh heard from the corner of the room as usual.
“You guys need to fix it.”
She could be stubborn if she wanted to. “He should be the one to come first.”
She knew he wouldn’t.
By this time, everyone in the band had realized that the two of them were not in good term.
“He’s in love with you.” His father stated.
That was a truth she didn’t know she needed. But the room seemed brighter somehow. Breathing became easier. Her naked feet touched the floor and a sense of relief surged through her skin.
Her heart broke for him though, because an unrequited love was still painful no matter the case.
“He asked for my blessing,” his father continued, “but I said no.”
Her tears were hot. The blood on the tip of her front teeth tasted bland—she didn’t realize she was biting her lip until it bled. She remembered how cold he’d had been all these times. Was he suffering too?
“He’s my precious son.” His—her—father began to tear up too. In his sadness though, there was a smile surfacing. For regret stayed for someone who couldn’t move from the past, and happiness was for the ones who cherished the present moment. “And I love you just as much. That’s why I couldn’t say yes. Because I know you never think of him that way.”
It was probably a truth he had known but refused to hear it out loud.
“It is actually astonishing that you never noticed it before.” Raja had said, the left corner of his mouth lifting up. “But then again, you were probably too busy worrying about whether he hated you as a sister to even consider that he might actually liked you as a girl.”
She huffed, but not disagreeing. After all, for all the years they’d known each other, Raja had never been wrong about her. Even once. Even about her adoptive family. Even about the violin she’d previously given up for a time after her parents’ death.
Even about him. That one specific advice.
The realization hit her.
“You knew, didn’t you?” Her tone was layered up in accusation. “That time when you told me to stop leaving him messages, to stop calling. To just let him figure it out all by his own?”
“Maybe,” he smiled. “And maybe because I knew the past you would be too confused to even acknowledge his feelings. Didn’t want him to get hurt further more.”
Her laugh was dry, unbelieving. “I must seem like an ignorant teenage girl in your mind.”
“No, you tried your best to be his sister. It’s not your fault that he didn’t want you to be.”
“But it is also not his fault for falling in love with me.”
Raja grabbed her right hand. His palm was calloused, his touch warm. “Both of you were basically children.”
“But we’re not, now.” She responded bitterly. The day he left too… we’re both adults.
His smile afterward was tinged with sadness too. She squeezed his hand back, even though it felt like her hand was burning.
She saw him for the three hundred and eleventh time a week prior to their father’s sudden declining condition and his unexpected death.
He never really confessed. She never directly rejected him.
They tried to move on. But it would never be the same anymore.
On their father’s funeral ceremony, Adhenium was present. She received a hug from her even though it felt weird to be comforted by someone who was practically a stranger.
He didn’t hug her. They stood side by side during the whole ceremony, not a word spoken.
When they got back to the house, the emptiness almost made her collapse. Here she was—getting another family only to lose them all over again.
He broke up with Adhenium. The news traveled so fast that by the time he finally admitted it to her, she had already heard it from dozens of different people.
It was the three hundred and forty first time she saw him. Sitting at the dinning table, they finally raised their voices.
She announced, “I’m sorry, but I decide not to move out from this house.”
For the past weeks she had been mulling that decision over and over again. Without his parents, it felt like she was no longer connected to him as a family. Not with this kind of strained relationship they had.
But she couldn’t just leave him.
He surprised her though by saying, “I prefer it for you to stay here.”
His eyes. The sadness etched on his face. The disappearing laugh lines.
“It is wrong for me to treat you like a stranger.”
She gasped, fingers closing in on the lower half of her face. Would she be allowed to cry? Was it okay to reach out to his hand and feel the warmth she’d been missing out for the past couple years?
“Please stay. Please don’t leave me.”
It’s a cry for help. This woman who had lost her family and this man who had lost his family. It’s a call for returning.
“I’ll never leave you.”
It’s a promise for souls that had been hurt over and over again.
In the future, he would get back together with his ex-girlfriend. This time he would tell her beforehand, and she would say “congratulations” again because she was genuinely happy for him.
She stopped counting. After all, it’s getting hard to keep up with all the numbers that continued piling up.
This road is so straight that I thought that things could never go wrong. And that we could go anywhere together.