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Just 'Stones'

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He could still remember the panic he felt when he woke up to the absence of Peter. They were binge drinking the previous night, and empty beer bottles littered the living room of the lounge they rented.

 

When Penny called him and all they saw was a note and Peter's Korean passport, fear ran through his veins.

 

His mind was a blank while they drove through the long roads.

 

And they were only met with nothingness until the authorities found his lifeless body at the bottom of the cliff.

 

At that moment he was too shocked to even show his sadness. All he could do was drive Penny and himself back to the lounge.

 


 

There was no time for tears. Soon, they were in Korea for Peter's funeral. His room was littered with a number of toys and gadgets, decorated with a number of decorations and photos of him through the ages.

 

Every minute in the room broke his heart a little more. For the boy smiling in those photographs wasn't with them anymore.

 

Peter was gone. To a better place. To a heaven where angels sing to him while playing the harps.

 

He picked up a particular photo frame; a photo that froze Peter in his adolescence. Those young features that showed no understanding of what was to come. The innocence that wasn't battered by the cruel reality of the world.

 

He didn't know how long has he stared at the photo for, but he looked up when he felt an unwavering gaze on him. Penny was glaring down at him, hurt in her eyes and in her hand was his phone.

 

Perry didn't need to know what she saw. He knew what it was.

 

'Project P', as he named the file.

 

Penny saw the folder where many of Peter's photos were kept in. With swift strides, Penny was down the stairs, and before he knew it, she had landed a slap across his face.

 

"You are sick! You should be the one dead, not him!" The words came out in Chinese, a language they usually communicated in and foreign to Peter's relatives surrounding them (just like Peter himself. He could almost hear Peter yelling at them, 'Ya! Speak English!').

 

His senses were numbed. The slap that he deserves didn't ache (his heart was in so much more pain).

 

Perry knew he deserves that tight slap. He had deceived Penny in order to get closer to Peter. In order to be part of Peter's world (the world of his love). However, he wouldn't lie that he was fond of Penny as a friend.

 

And he decided he wouldn't go into Penny's life anymore. He doesn’t deserve to be forgiven by her.

 


 

When he was back in Taipei, Perry's thoughts went back to the camera that Peter gave him the day before his suicide.

 

'Here, have this.' was what he said and insisted that Perry take ownership of his DSLR. When he first looked into the camera, he was frozen from shock. After getting the news of the death of Peter, he turned the camera on, looking at the photographs they took while on the trip, with hopes to retain whatever memories he had (Perry was afraid, he was afraid that Peter will slowly fade away from him if he didn't look at his photos).

 

Photos of three of them. Photos of Penny and himself. Photos of him, and him, and him. Photos of Perry. And with the next press of the button, Perry almost dropped the camera. It was a photo of a slip of paper. On it, in Peter's handwriting that he was familiar with, scribbled four simple words.

 

'I love you too.'

 

The only time where he can remember professing his love for the other was when they were sharing a bed. Penny had finally gone to sleep after he rejected her from changing places. The darkness was comforting, filled with the steady breathing from the two sleepy heads on both sides. Perry had turned his back on Penny, and he gazed at Peter's sleeping form, trying to etch it into his mind (and he has, he would never forget it as long as he is alive; or dead for that matter).

 

Peter's sleeping form was free from worries that plagued him constantly through the four years he knew him. And seeing him sleep made Perry unconsciously utter the words, 'I love you,' in Peter's direction. It was quiet and the words were supposed to be lost in the wind of the night. But Peter heard it (Perry never knew that Peter had times where he wouldn't be able to sleep, but acts like he is. And he will never know).

 

And there in this camera was Peter's reply.

 

And Perry broke into a smile as tears finally flowed freely. The pain from the news being broke to them from the authorities sunk in. He finally knew that his love wasn't unrequited.

 

They couldn't be together, but it was reciprocated. The photos showed him.

 

And he decided, he was going to live and smile for the both of them. For Peter who was never happy from the age of twelve until their road trip.

 

Pulling the clay seal that Peter got for him, he held it in both his hands and rested his forehead on them (as if in a prayer).

 

"Hey," his voice was cracking from crying. "You can probably understand Chinese now, or drag an angel over for translation. I'm sure they understand all languages." It was like Peter was with him, and he was positive that he would be met with objections and his catchphrase 'Ya! Speak English!' was so near yet so far.

 

"Okay, English. I'm going to live for both of us. Smile for both of us. Make sure you tag along me all the time."

 

Breathing deeply, Perry continued, "And then after all these, I'm going to grow old in Australia, and I'll meet you again when I'm old and wrinkly. Would you still love me then?" A bitter smile lingered on his lips. He shivered a little, and his lips felt a little tingling.

 

It was as if Peter was there with him, pecking his lips and assuring him that he would continue to love him (just as he promised to love both of them forever).

 

It was like their little secret, their little romance that never materialized until now. And thinking back to what Penny shouted into his face in Korea, he felt guilty for not being able to tell his friend about what was in the camera (and she would never know).

 


 

"You are back again," the landlady of the lounge smiled softly at Perry. She didn't know how long has this been going on. He had been visiting every year. He smiled politely back at her, nodding.

 

"Have you thought about what I suggested a year ago?" Perry had aged. He was now a successful businessman in his company, not losing out to the wealth of 'Senior Park' (as Peter used to jokingly call his father). His habit of saving continued, and it was one of the reasons he had built up his fortune. The lounge still looks the same after all those years back when they had their road trip (like when Peter was alive). "About that, I have talked to my mother about it. She agreed since you've been coming here since she was healthy and well." The smile on her lips was now a pitying one and Perry shook his head, indicating that he was alright.

 

The years have battered him and numbed the pain, and he was near his retirement. He had saved up enough to live on, and even if he did stay in Australia, he could do light paperwork over here and have conferences over webcam. All in all, he had planned everything.

 

This was his road trip with Peter. He was back here where Peter left.

 

"I'll pass you the paper tomorrow, for now, here's the key, Mr. Yang."

 

"Thank you,"

 

"Would you like to rename the lounge? It's going to be yours after all,"

 

Looking at the lounge, he felt the usual wave of nostalgia overcome him again. The Rolls Royce that they had used to travel together was parked at the exact same spot (he had bought it from the car rental a few years into his career). The car plate had remained as "3 PEAS" and he smiled at the fond memories of their friendship.

 

After the silence, Perry turned to the landlady and replied, "A name. ‘Stones’ will do, just ‘Stones’ will do.”