Where The Heart Is
Written for Codey’s World’s Holiday Story Collection
The house hadn’t changed much. It still looked the same as three years ago, at least, from the outside, although now it was adorned with Christmas lights and stuff. I was tempted to just stop my car in the middle of the street and run into the house, but I restrained myself and kept driving. Since there were other cars parked along the street, I had to park a block away from the house where I had spent eighteen years of my life. I felt my heart start to pound inside my chest. It had been a long time since I last saw it. Three years is a long time.
My going home for Christmas was a surprise for everyone. I hadn’t planned on it, especially after everything that had happened in the past. They weren’t expecting me; they hadn’t been, for two Christmas breaks already. This would be the third time that I wasn’t supposed to be there, except that I felt that I was now ready to face everything. They understood my reasons for not going home, though. They were even supportive of me, telling me to take all the time that I need. I’m good now. I even bought gifts for everyone. My camera was wiped clean just for the occasion. But my being there wouldn’t be the only surprise that I have for them. I still had another surprise, one that I knew they would like.
I got out of my car and heard Christmas songs coming from every house; I didn’t know which song to sing along to. The air was filled by the sweet aroma of sumptuous feasts that covered each table at every house, and here in the street, it would make anyone salivate with hunger. There didn’t seem to be a dark spot anywhere either. Nothing really seemed to have changed. I took another look-around before taking out the paper bags in the back seat, twelve in all; I didn’t know how many gift boxes there were. I locked the car and made my way towards the house, very much nervous, bags dangling on both sides.
I rang the bell, holding my breath. The door opened almost instantly, and I came face to face with Alex, my not-so-younger brother. I didn’t know whether it was him or me who gasped so loud. Or everybody. The whole house fell silent for a few seconds, save for the music in the background. Then, everybody rushed towards the door, and I thought that we were probably the loudest bunch in the neighborhood with all the gibberish that was flying around because they were all talking at the same time. Damn, I missed them. I missed seeing them in person.
When I was finally able to go inside the house, my face had been kissed a hundred times, and my body would probably have bruises from the hugs that I got. All the bags that I was carrying were also gone, probably taken by someone while the hug fest was going on just outside the door. My nervousness was replaced with a few tears in my eyes, seeing my family again. They were all here for Christmas Eve as usual, uncles, aunts, and cousins, who gave me a few punches. The only problem was that I didn’t notice that Alex had slipped out when all that was taking place. I didn’t even get a hug from him.
I followed my parents to the kitchen where most of the adults were. “Mom, Dad,” I said, “I’d love to stay and chat, but where’s Alex? He was the one who opened the door, but he just suddenly vanished.”
My dad chuckled, but it was Mom who spoke. “Don’t tell me you already forgot why he thought you won’t be so happy to see him.”
“I didn’t. I just forgave him is all. I wouldn’t have come home if I was still mad at him, at them.”
“Really?” Dad asked, “You’ve already forgiven them?”
I smiled at him. “Yes, Dad. It took long though.”
“Just like your mother. She still hadn’t forgotten the time I canceled our date so I could go with my friends to that disco, and that was what? More than twenty years ago. Before we even got married!”
“My goodness, he’s still lying about it,” Mom said, shaking her head. “Your brother is probably in his room.” She paused, almost tearing up again. “Thanks, Adam. I’m really glad you’re back here. Talking with you over the phone is just not enough, you know. We missed you.”
Dad grinned at me. “What she said.”
I hugged my dad and kissed my mom’s cheek. “Thanks Dad, Mom. I missed you too. I missed Alex too...” I choked up. Damn. I had to look away for a moment, feeling the tears stinging my eyes. “I’m gonna go look for him.”
I wandered around the house, looking for my brother, but I couldn’t find him. I already knew that, though. I was just making sure that he really was in his room. I mean, who knows how much he had changed in the past three years? But he was still the same. He still hides in his room when he wants to avoid trouble. Except this time, I wasn’t about to give him trouble. I missed my family, and that included him, whatever it was that happened in the past. I knocked on his door, hoping that he didn’t leave the house to go somewhere else.
“Yeah?” I heard him call out, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
“It’s me, Alex. Is it okay for me to come in?”
He didn’t answer for a few seconds, and I was almost about to go in whether he didn’t want to or not when the door swung open and I was once again face to face with my brother. I didn’t wait for him to say or do anything. I just wrapped my arms around him. I hugged him tight; I wouldn’t be the only one who would have bruises tonight. “I missed you, Alex. A lot. Everything’s forgiven. They’re all in the past now, and I’m not gonna hold it over your head, ever. Forget those names I called you, okay?” I kissed his cheek and untangled myself from him, but he held on, so I wrapped my arms around him again. He was shaking in my arms, and I realized that he was crying. I just rubbed his back like old times, even though I knew that that makes him cry even more. My brother is weird. When he finally stopped crying, I kissed his cheek again before releasing him. Damn, I really missed him.
“I missed you too, Kuya.” He grinned at me before putting both of his hands on the back of my neck and kissing me on the lips. I was so shocked, but I woke up when I felt his tongue on my lips. I pushed him off of me and started wiping my lips with the back of my hands. “Ewww... you’re gonna give me nightmares you sick shit.” But even though I said that, I couldn’t help but laugh together with my brother. “Fuck, never in my life had that thing happening ever crossed my mind.”
“I’ve wanted to try that ever since Sam told me you’re a great kisser. Turns out there was nothing to look forward to.”
“Brat,” I told him, laughing. When we had already calmed down, I asked him, “Where is he?” and I felt no pain at all. I missed my best friend too.
“He told me he would be here,” he answered, looking away.
“Alex... don’t be like that, okay? I’m telling you now, I’ve already moved on. Right now, I have to give him that if-you-hurt-my-brother speech, though it’s three years late.”
“I’m really, really happy for this, Kuya.”
“I am too, Alex,” I said. Then, I pushed him against the wall and gave his lips my best passionate kiss with tongues and all that, and you know, once I forgot that he was my brother, I actually enjoyed it a lot. That was why when I broke the kiss, I told him, grinning, “And never forget, I’m your brother.”
We went downstairs where everybody was and joined in on the conversations going on. I didn’t have to catch up with anything; I talked with them regularly though I hadn’t gone home for years.
I was talking with one of my cousins about his latest course, History, his fifth one, when Alex tapped me on the shoulder and whispered, “He’s here.” I excused myself and rushed after my brother. I felt so excited to see my best friend again, that when I saw him, I just ran up to him and hugged him, and this time, I couldn’t stop the tears from falling anymore. I felt so full, so happy, at the moment. Sam kept whispering “I’m sorry” into my ear over and over again, but I just hugged him and made a spectacle out of the both of us. I released him when everybody started cheering. “God, Sam, I missed you.”
“Me too, Adam. I missed you.”
I chuckled, remembering something I told Alex earlier. “Just remember this, Sam: I’m going to kill you if you hurt my brother.”
“I had already killed myself for what I did to you, Adam,” he said, setting my tears off again.
“Fuck, you always make me cry,” I said, sniffling. “Anyway, just to be fair...” I put my lips against his for a second, and it reminded me very much of the first kiss that we shared, a light kiss that lasted for a second and set us together for a few years. It was followed by a more passionate one, one that had my dad clearing his throat.
“Uh, get a room,” he said, making everybody laugh.
“You’ve been practicing,” Sam whispered to me.
“I’m a natural, Sam. I don’t need that.”
We joined Alex and my cousin, who was now thinking about taking up Biology. The guy didn’t know what to do with his life. Sam kissed Alex on the lips before sitting next to him, and I giggled when I saw that, remembering that I had kissed them both before they kissed each other. It seemed I’m not the only one who remembered it because they both chuckled, looking at me. They really looked happy right now, and I genuinely felt only happiness for them now. My cousin only looked at each of us with a confused expression. I wanted to kiss him too just to see his reaction, but he might not like that.
We were discussing something about cars when we were interrupted by another silence. It was like the silence they had when Alex opened the door to find me. Everybody was looking at the direction of the door too, so we all looked that way. There was a guy there who was looking around uncertainly, and I knew that nobody here knew him but me. When his eyes met mine, they seemed to shine brighter than any light there was. Those eyes always stir up the butterflies inside my stomach. I stood up and made my way towards him, taking his hand and leading him inside.
“Hey guys, this is my boyfriend, Brian.”
Author’s Note: To first-timers to my stories, “Kuya” is what we Filipinos call our eldest brother. So if you ever decide to visit the Philippines, don’t think that “Kuya” is a very, very common name.
Many thanks to Colinian for his help.