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Green is the Color of Trouble

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His eyes were a vivid green, like a lush rainforest at high noon. His hair was inky black and unruly. He looked like trouble personified with band-aids on his face and knees. It didn’t help that the grin directed at him was positively impish.

Neo was sure he was never going to play with that kid that just moved in. Nope. Not a chance.

The boy with the pretty green eyes had his hand wrapped around a hand much smaller than his. The little girl attached to his hip was the boy’s exact replica. The boy with the green eyes waved and grinned wider at him. His sister turned from watching their parents unload the car and saw her brother waving. She looked at him and shot the exact same smile her brother did.  Neo scoffed under his breath, but waved back none-the-less. His mother said to always be nice to your neighbors, even if you didn’t like them.

Neo had to get back to practicing his Chinese. His mother would scold him if he didn’t improve at least a little in the hours of tutoring that had gone into preparing him to get into grade school.

As Neo faced his workbook, the boy with the green eyes stayed at the back of his mind. He weirdly couldn’t stop himself from smiling.


 

Neo finally got a break. His parents were abroad for a few days.

He was riding his bike around the street, under the lenient eye of his yaya Leonie.

She was sitting in front of their house with one of her numerous romance pocket books.

He smiled to himself and pedaled faster, closing his eyes and lifting his arms to the sky with abandon. He missed playing outside. It was only so often that he could play and scream to his heart’s content.

Neo got to the end of the street and turned around only to pull on his brakes.

Lo and behold, there stood the boy with the green eyes.

“Hi! I’m Salle! I live right beside you,” the boy with the green eyes said with a smile.

“I know. I’m Neo.”

He starts to get back on his bike when the kid grabs his hand.

“Wanna bike together?”

“Uh, no.”

“Pleaaaaase? My parents are out and there’s no one to teach me and my sister, Cess, how to ride,” Salle says as he blindly gestures behind him in the general direction of their houses.

Neo felt a little apprehensive about Salle. Did he really want to waste his free time with someone he had to teach biking to? His sister too? He might as well, he decides. He was going to be living beside him so they’d have to get along.

Neo nods as he pedals to position himself beside Salle who’s turning his bike around.

Neo was a bike instructor for an afternoon. He thought he’d be irritated and grumpy at the end of it, but he surprisingly didn’t mind it at all.


 

It was 3:30 in the afternoon. Where in the world was Salle? He wasn’t home. He wasn’t playing outside. They met every day at the tree in front of Neo’s house at 3 o’clock on the dot to play. Did Salle have something to do?

“Neooooo!”

Neo turns towards the call and sees a Salle on his bike, pedalling at top speed.

“Slow down partner! I’m not going anywhere,” Neo shouts as he stands and brushes the grass off his shorts.

Salle panting and sweating from exertion hands him a plastic bag with what seems to be bread inside.“Tita said you liked the pan de coco from the bakery that my yaya buys from. I volunteered to buy when they were going to the palengke,” he says as he wipes the sweat from his brow and gets off the bike.

Neo can’t help but shoot him a smile. His mom said he smiled more often now. She said he smiled more when Salle was around. Neo was surprised his mom and dad liked Salle. He could say they probably loved him like their own.

Neo could say, but he’ll deny it if you ask him, that he felt the same.

“How can I get mad at you for being late when you’re being the greatest best friend in the whole world? How Salle? How?” Neo pleads as dramatically as he possibly can as he sinks to his knees clutching Salle’s hands and the bag of coconut goodness in his hands. Salle laughs as he looks down at Neo.

“You’ll just have to repay me with a lifetime of playing together, sleepovers and video games, best friend,” Salle says triumphantly as he pulls Neo up

Neo engulfs him in a hug and whispers, “Deal.”

Neo thinks it’s a pretty fun forever.


 

“Hey, Neo.” Salle mutters as he sipped on his lemonade. “How come you don’t play outside a lot, unless you’re with me? Me and Cess always see you in your room.”

Neo shrugs and rocks the hammock once more with his dangled foot. He and Salle were draped over the hammock in Neo’s backyard, sipping lemonade from cold juice packs.

“You have pretty eyes.”

Salle looks at Neo with a blush rising on his cheeks. Neo laughs and pokes his cheek.

“Aww. You blush pretty too.”

Salle swats at him and tackles him. They struggle until they fall out of the hammock. Neo has the air knocked out of him as Salle lands on him and proceeds to lay on him out of spite for his teasing.

“Salle” Neo whispers, “I’m moving.”

“No, silly. You’re staying right here,” Salle utters as he snuggles into Neo’s chest.

“Salle, I mean I’m moving houses.”

Salle sits up, shock painting his features.

“B-but, you said, we’d play forever and come to each other’s houses and play video games.

You can’t just leave!” Salle said shakily, on the verge of tears.

Neo brushes the grass off him as he sits up as well.

“My lola lives in the States and no one else is there to take care of her.My mom and dad want to live with her so we can watch over her.She’s old and all alone,” Neo explains softly as he notices Salle’s glassy eyes.

Salle’s trying to blink back tears as he looks at his best friend. He suddenly perks up and whispers conspiratorially, “Let’s make a promise to each other. When we’re older and we see each other again, let’s play video games and hangout some more.”

“I’ll raise you one. When we’re older and we see each other again, let’s do all the things we planned, and you’ll be my boyfriend.”

Just as Salle opens his mouth to respond, his mom calls him to dinner.

Salle stands and extends a hand to Neo to help him up.

Neo grabs Salle’s hand and pushes himself off the ground to surround Salle in a hug.

Salle leans his head on Neo’s shoulder and let’s his tears stain Neo’s shirt.

“Don’t leave” Salle whispers as Neo hugs him tighter.

“I don’t want to. I never want to leave you.”

Neo lifts Salle’s head and tips his head up so he can look into his eyes.

“You’re still my best friend. That’s never going to change,” says Neo.

“When are you leaving?”

“Tomorrow.”

Neo leans his forehead against Salle’s and kisses his forehead.

“SALLE DINNER!”

Salle jumps, hugs Neo tighter, and pecks his cheek before letting go.

“See you soon bud,” Salle shouts as he runs around the side of the house to get to his house. Salle calls out again, “DEAL!”

“Deal and see you,” Neo calls to Salle’s retreating form.

Neo feels the tears he had been holding in gush as he runs inside to cry in the solitude of his bedroom.


 

Neo thought of him every day. The boy with the green eyes, his Salle. After a few months, he couldn’t seem to reach him anymore. The number Salle gave stopped working. He couldn’t find him in the phone book nor reach him with the letters and postcards. His Salle was lost to him.

Chapter Text

The soft instrumental music of his alarm rouses him from his slumber. Neo groans, the sleep still clinging onto him like a vice. He wants to snuggle into the sheets and forget the world again. He cracks open an eye and checks his clock, 5 am.

Class starts at 9 anyway.

He starts to snuggle into his pillows again but a wayward thought wiggles its way into his reasoning.

Nooooo get up asshole. Sayang tuition mo, baka ma-late ka. Let’s go. Let’s go. Let’s go.

He pushes his blanket off him, shifting to hang his legs off the bed to blindly feel for his slippers. He is successful and trudges to the bathroom to wash his face and wane his desire to envelop himself in the sheets once more.

Neo goes out of the room and fixes his snacks for the day. He glances out the window as he finishes assembling the sandwiches to see the darkness has lightened. He approximates it’s 5:30, a glance at the clock confirms this.

He smiles to himself and leaves his food near his bag in the living room to walk into his room to shower and change.

By 6, he’s out the door to endure his long commute to Katipunan.


 

Neo’s phone buzzes from a call and sees Miriam’s name appear on his phone while he’s sitting in class. He discreetly rejects the call and types out a text.

Neo: I’m in class, dude. What’s up?

Miriam: Are you free later? Going to a house warming with some friends and, hopefully, the Katip kada.

Neo: Nah. I got to study for a test next week.

Miriam: I think you’ll want to come.

Neo: Why?

Miriam: I’ll give you a hint: It’s green and male.

Neo feels himself get hot and his chest fills with hope. Could it be him? The boy with the green eyes? His heart races and he can’t seem to focus.

His phone buzzes once more.

Miriam: So, are you going?

Neo can’t type fast enough.

Neo: Yes

He can’t resist smiling for the rest of his classes. It seems his day just got better.


 

Neo: Miriam, I’m at Regis, beside FullyBooked.

Miriam: Hold on, Neo. Phil’s pulling up in front na.

Neo pushes himself off from the column he was leaning on and stands near the driveway. A black car pulls up to stop right in front of him. The window to the passenger seat rolls down to reveal an excited Phil and Miriam.

“Neo! Let’s go, man! Malalate na tayo. Kailangan pa natin sunduin si Tomas.”

Neo salutes Phil with a “Yes boss!”, and gets in the back seat.

As Phil drives out into Katipunan, Miriam turns in her seat to face Neo with a devilish grin.

“Heeey Neo. Glad you could join us today.”

Neo gives her a blank look and says, “My subjects need me, they’d perish if they went even a day without me.”

Miriam smiles wider in response and winks at him. “Whatever you say, pretty boy.”

Neo smirks in response and she turns back to the front. Phil looks at him through the rear-view mirror and gives him a reassuring smile. Neo returns it and turns to look out the window as they drive along Aurora Boulevard.

Admittedly, Neo’s is scared shitless. He’s hoping for something that he’s too prideful to ask Miriam. He stares out the window, deep in thought, as his friends chatter up front.

Will he recognize me? Does he remember the promises? Is he still shorter than me? Does he still look like trouble?

Neo finds himself drifting off to the rumble and tumble of the car.

Neo jolts awake to a Miriam shaking his shoulder and a napping Tomas drooling on his shirt.

He groans and ruffles Tomas’ hair to wake him up. He can’t help the smirk as Tomas punches him to quit with the hair ruffling.

“Gago naman Neo eh,” Tomas grumbles as he fixes his hair.

Neo climbs out of the car with a shrug directed at Tomas.

“Come on, guys!” Miriam calls out as she enters a gate to the house they’re parked in front of.

Phil is nowhere to be seen, presumably inside, and Tomas is just getting out of the car. The house is huge, arguably a mansion. Tall dark grey gate, white walled exterior, modern minimalism at its finest, Neo muses to himself, admitting to be mildly impressed. Neo grabs Tomas’ forearm and pulls him in.

Neo starts to feel a little apprehensive, all previous anxiety about Salle coming back. He steels himself for disappointment, takes a deep breath and opens the door. He steps inside and raises his head to survey the room. The décor is minimal yet homey. Phil is sat on a stylish black couch, talking to two people, most likely the identical twins who Miriam had blabbered on about last week. As Phil turns towards the door, he notices Tomas at Neo’s side beckons him over. Neo feels rather than sees Tomas perk up. In which he expects the usual nose dive into Phil’s waiting arms to happen. Neo smirks and turns to wave at the twins whose eyes flick back and forth from Neo, to Phil and Tomas.  

“Neo!”

Neo looks over his shoulder to see Miriam hugging a smaller girl who has red and yellow ombre hair, dressed fashionably in a bomber jacket, white shirt, ripped cutoffs and white sneakers. He nods at them and Miriam waves him over.

“Neo, meet the cutest, most amazing, person on the planet, Cess. Cess, this is the loser,” Miriam giggles and gestures towards him with a dramatic flourish. She looks familiar to him.  Neo extends his hand to Cess and Cess does the same. He holds her hand and bows to kiss it. He looks up at her from his position and smiles at her. Cess flushes and flashes him a friendly smile in return. He vaguely remembers a smile just like that, though he’s not sure from where.

“’Wag kang pa-prince charming, akin siya,” Miriam bats him away playfully and hugs Cess again. Cess giggles and snuggles into the hug.

Neo chuckles and raises his hands in surrender. He turns around to find a man who looks undeniably like Cess. He can’t help the gasp that escapes him when he realizes why Cess and her smile looked familiar.

 

The boy with the green eyes looks like he’s more trouble now, than ever.

Chapter Text

The black polo he has on sticks to his skin in the humid heat. He stands at the foot of a newly filled grave, toeing the fresh grass, unable to really look at the plaque without tears filling his eyes. His family stands off to the side, making small talk with the remaining mourners.

He spares the wretched name plate a glance and his heart aches and feels like its crumpling on itself.

His lovely, ever patient, grandmother was in her last resting place. The fact that she lays beside his grandfather, the love of her life, makes him smile through the tears that manage to escape. He bends down to run his fingers over the letters of her name.

He remembers those first few months of being miserable, missing Salle and the Philippines. His lola coaxed him into enjoying the US and what being there had to offer. His heart clenches at the onslaught of memories.

A gentle breeze wafted and cradled him, warm and comforting, just like his grandmother.


 

Neo smiles to himself as he looks in the mirror. Just a few months and several hundred miles away, he had been dressed in similar fashion, albeit a lot less blue. Crisp blue shirt, khaki pants, black shoes, the whole ensemble screamed Ateneo High School. His father was misty-eyed when he first showed it off a few days before. Neo had to snicker at the memory.

He was smug with glee for a whole week when he had been accepted. In the back of his mind, he was already planning to find out if he could find Salle there, though he had a feeling he’d be severely disappointed.

Saying goodbye to the four years of testosterone filled halls had Neo shedding a tear. High school was a rollercoaster of weirdness, but he wouldn’t give it up for anything.

 

As he walks behind his parents to the parking lot, they look every bit the married couple. His dad has an arm slung around her shoulders, while his mom has an arm wrapped around his dad’s waist with her head on his shoulder.

Neo sighs at the sight.

His mom apparently hears him, turning her head to look at him.

His mom smiles, the laugh lines at her eyes crinkling. Neo sticks his tongue out at her and she laughs in response. His dad peeks at them and shakes his head.

His parents share a look and slow to let him catch up, releasing each other to engulf him in a sandwich of side hugs.

“Congratulations, honey,” his mom begins as she kisses his cheek, “Are you excited to start college?”

Neo ponders over it for a bit, continuing to walk slowly with his arms around his parents.

“I’m excited to go to college, not really excited to study some more.”

His father chuckles and squeezes him in response, “You’ll love it. You’ll meet so many great people.”

His mother nods, “I agree, but I still wish you chose La Salle, though.”

Neo’s heart clenches at the name, forlornly staring ahead, thoughts of Salle dampening his graduation high. His parents don’t seem to notice as his father goes into his usual tirade.

His father gasps and fake shock paints his features, stopping in his tracks. Neo facepalms knowing how this is going to turn out. His father is going to be an extra and go on ranting about Jesuit education blah blah blah, and his mom’s going to stand there, hands on her hips, retorting with killer comebacks every time. His father’s going to give up, throw his hands up in defeat and grovel for a cuddle. His mom will pretend to be unfazed then peck his cheek. Then all will be back to normal in a span of 7 minutes.

He pretends to gag when they get to the sweet reconciliation part of everything, while a part of him aches for someone to irritate and bicker with only to end up in a mess of cuddles and small kisses to soften the sting of a spat.

His parents see him, his mother swats him while his father maneuvers him into a headlock to mess with his hair.

“DAAAAD! STOOOOP! THE DOOOO! ITS RUIIIIINED,” Neo pleads as his father chuckles at his demise.

He grapples out of his father’s grip to fix his hair. His mom ropes her arms around them and squeezes as she pulls them towards the car.

“My husband is such weirdo.”

Neo chuckles under his breath as his father gasps again in outrage. His mother was amazing.


 

 

Neo’s comfortably draped on the bean bag in Miriam’s room. He’s pretty sure her mom is nit-picking at her to make sure she attends to Neo’s needs. He’s seen the gleam in her mom’s eyes. She sees him as a potential son-in-law. He chuckles at the thought.

Miriam enters with a groan and Neo knows he’s right. She flops onto him and snuggles into the space between his shoulder and neck.

“I hate you. Why does she have to like you and see you as a suitor instead of my best friend?” Miriam whines.

“Hah. You dug that hole yourself when you told her you liked me in high school,” Neo mutters as he kisses her forehead and engulfs her in a hug.

“It’s different now. I like… other people. And, of course, you’re holding out for someone, right? Salle, right?”

Neo’s heart pangs in his chest. He’d held out for more than a decade. Was it all for nothing? Was he being a hopeless romantic? He wanted to keep believing that he’d get to be with Salle again. He had to be.

He’s shaken out of musings when Mia grasps his face in her hands. His eyes widen when he sees the intensity in her eyes.

“Neo, we’re going to find him. You have me to help you. Phil, too. But, I’m the more important Katip kid. I’m not going to rest until you find him. So should you,” Mia utters in her no-nonsense tone that he knows means absolute business.

Neo grins as hope fills his chest. He knew from the start she was a force to be reckoned with. He nods, his face still squished between her splayed hands.

“I would really like it if you let go, now.”

“Ah, sorry.” Mia let’s go of his face only to punch him in the gut. “I hope he likes you back even if you look horrible, squished.”

Mia laughs as she books it out of her room as Neo gets out of his chair to retaliate.

He’s happy he’s got friends like Mia.


 

His heart is stuck in his throat and he wants to say something so bad, but the man he’s been waiting a decade for has his arm slinked around another and he can’t say anything about it. He knows his face is blank but the turmoil inside him hits like a tidal wave. He’s unsure of whether to jump into a conversation with him or to introduce himself or, or…

His mind goes blank.

He must have spaced out for a bit for as he comes back to himself, he registers a hand waving in front of his face. He grabs it by the wrist to stop its movement and trails his gaze up to the person its attached to. He takes in everything he had not seen in so long. The chiseled jaw, the fuller lips, the straight nose, to the eyes that still take his breath away. They’re so green, oh so green.

“Dude, okay ka lang?”

Neo has to suppress the shudder that runs through him at the low timbre of Salle’s voice. He nods firmly. He feels a hand grip his shoulder and turns his head, not taking his eyes of the man in front of him.

“Salle, ito nga pala si Neo. Ang alam ko magkakilala na kayo dati.” Phil’s voice grounds him.

Neo’s heart pounds as the hope rises in him that Salle remembers him. The hand that grips Salle’s wrist let’s go to offer him a handshake. He desperately hopes, Salle will swat it away and pull him into a hug that he desperately needs.

Salle’s eyebrows pull together in confusion as he examines Neo’s face.

“Luh, Phil. ‘di no.” But, none the less grasps Neo’s hand in a firm handshake.

Neo clenches his jaw and schools his features to remain blank despite the pain that spreads rapidly from his broken heart.

He forgot me. He forgot me. He forgot me. He forgot me.

The thought consumes him as he feels himself go numb. Salle excuses himself to approach the man he had his arm around. Neo stares after him, unable to utter a word as his mood dampens.

Mia grabs his hand and pulls him out the door, already knowing he needs space to breathe without other people in the room looking at him. She immediately envelops him in a hug as he hides his face in her shoulder.

“Mia,” he whispers, the beginning of tears lacing his voice, “he doesn’t remember me.”

As soon as he says it, the tears stream down his face, soaking into Mia’s blouse. Mia hugs him tighter and shushes him, rubbing her hands on his back to soothe him.

He forgot me.