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Learning To Swim

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“So, how are you feeling?” Izzy asked as she, Jay and Dave sat in Dave’s living room, their usual hang out spot. It was almost five, and just like most weekdays he was hanging out here.

Jay liked Izzy. He did. But he could feel his affection toward her decrease significantly the second she asked him that question. It was the third time that day and perhaps the two-hundredth time over the last two weeks.

“I’m not the one who died. I’m perfectly fine.”

Even as he spoke, a shiver passed through his body. He glanced at Izzy, whose dark eyes were furrowed, and lips were pursed together, her dark hair put up in a neat ponytail. His response only made Izzy frown further.

“Yeah, but you’re grieving.” The matter-of-fact tone Izzy spoke with made it impossible for Jay to bite back his sharp responses.

“Yes. And I like to grieve in silence, so I’d appreciate it if you stopped playing therapist.”

Izzy snapped her mouth shut, looking back down at her phone.

“Jay, dude, I love you. But go easy on her. She’s just showing you she cares,” Dave told him, running his hand through his dirty blonde hair. He glanced at Dave to see the latter give him a stern look. A look that said “if you are rude to my girlfriend again, I’ll kick you out”.

He muttered an apology before glancing at his phone.

“It’s all good,” Izzy responded, a large smile on her face.

Jay often wondered how Izzy managed to stay as chirpy and optimistic as she was.

In her almost two-year relationship with Dave, he had never seen her upset or crying. She never seemed to have a bad day, never seemed to get unnerved, and was almost on top of everything. It was even surprising considering she had so much more on her plate. She was probably the most ambitious person he had ever met.

Not only was she a cheerleader, she was also the school vice president. She was also in more AP classes than him, Dave and Justin combined, and the to-be valedictorian. In accord to that, Dave and her were perfect. He, too, was very accomplished, in the athletic department having been part of the football, swimming and track and field team in the last four years. This year, he was the swim team captain. His grades, while not as good as Izzy’s or Jay’s, were still good enough for him to be proud of.

Jay had somehow managed to befriend the most talented and capable people while he himself could only do three extracurriculars before getting tired.

A few moments of silence passed between the three of them before Izzy broke it. “Anyways, so I thought we could all go to homecoming.”

Jay scoffed. “Count me out.”

“Oh, come on, Jay. It’s our last homecoming!” Izzy pleaded, and Jay glanced up to see her give him the same face that he had seen her give Dave on multiple occasions. It was the face she gave him when she wanted something. Dave usually fell for that face, being in love and all. Jay, however, didn’t feel his decision shifting at all.

He shrugged at that. “For me, it’ll be my first Homecoming.”

His response did little to faze Izzy’s enthusiasm. “Well, that’s even bigger of a reason you should come.”

At his lack of response, Izzy turned to Dave, who had been silently observing the two of them argue.

“Yeah, come on, man,” Dave added, his eyes flickering over to Izzy. “We’ll have fun! We can jump on the dance floor. That’s always fun.”

Jay snorted at his friend’s description. On a good day, Jay would have continued the argument. It was one of the perks of being on the school debate team, aside from an excellent addition to his college application. But Jay already had a raging headache and he knew if he had refused their request again, they would’ve continued convincing him to come, which was why he surrendered.

“Fine. But I’ll only go if Justin goes. I’m not third-wheeling your horny asses all night.”

Izzy squealed with delight and clapped her hands together, “Deal! We’ll do whatever you want us to do after that!”

Jay fidgeted.. “It’s fine. You don’t have to do anything. But I’ll still come.”

“Because you love us?” Dave asked teasingly.

Jay chuckled. “You could say that.”

“Okay, I have to get to work,” Izzy said, getting up, her eyes fixated at her phone. She sighed softly. “I’ll see you guys later.”

She and Dave kissed, after which she looked at Jay. “Bye, Jay! I’ll see you at school tomorrow.”

Jay nodded vaguely at her direction, his eyes not leaving his phone.

As soon as the door closed behind them, a pillow hit Jay straight on his face. He rubbed his nose, glaring at Dave.

“Hey!” he complained, in response to which Dave threw another pillow at him.

“What the fuck, Dave?”

“Be nicer to Izzy! You know she means well,” he replied, shaking his head at Jay.

“I am nice to her!” Dave lowered his eyes to which Jay sighed. “I’ve just been in a bad mood. I’ll try being nicer.”

“Thank you,” Dave said before sitting down and focusing his gaze on him. “How are you doing, though?”

Jay gave him a long stare before shaking his head. “Jesus. Izzy is rubbing on you.”

Dave threw another pillow at him which Jay dodged. He laughed instead.

“I’m just asking,” Dave told him. “I’m your friend, and you’ve had a tough two weeks. I don’t know how to make things better for you except just to be a good friend.”

“Good friends don’t keep throwing pillows at their friend, and brutally injuring them,” Jay muttered, to which Dave glared at him. He was almost sure that he would get another pillow thrown at him, but Dave didn’t bother. Instead, he sat back on the couch and arched an eyebrow, silently observed Jay.

He sighed. “I’m fine. And you are a good friend. Just stop asking me that every time you see me. It’s exhausting.”

“Well, I’m here if you want to talk,” he insisted, giving him a small smile.

“I know. Thanks”

There was a small silence before Jay spoke up again.

“So I met this girl yesterday. Or today, I guess. I met her at like 2 AM. Time seems weird then.”

Dave tilted his head to the side, frowning. “When you say you met her … do you mean you dreamt of a girl or did you meet a real-life girl? And why at 2 AM? Or were you guys texting?”

“You know, if you didn’t interrupt me, you wouldn’t have all these questions,” Jay answered, clicking his tongue.

Dave gave him a look. “Shut up.”

“Anyway, do you know the cafe near Starbucks? Brew Town?”

Dave hummed, trying to recall. “I know there is a cafe, but I thought it had a weird-ass name like Raw something. ‘Brew Town’ sounds like a regular name.”

“The sign says ‘rew To n.’ But, yes, it’s that one. So, when I went there, she was the only one working. And we talked for a while, and she was nice. We got along really well,” Jay told him, biting back a yawn.

“Why does she work at 2 AM? I’m assuming she’s not in high school then.”

Jay shrugged, having not thought about it. Now that Dave mentioned it though, he did believe that it was unusual to work at that hour. “She looked like she was our age. Maybe she’s in college.”

Dave nodded. “Okay, but still, who works at 2 AM in college?”

Before Jay could think of something, the door clicked open.

“Who’s working at 2 AM?” Justin Ocampo, Jay’s other friend, asked as he walked in. He was balancing a cup of coffee and his phone in his right hand while carrying a bag of food on the other hand. He raised his eyebrow at the two of them.

“Jay’s new love,” Dave explained, taking the bag of food from his hand.

Justin looked at Jay inquiringly as he sat down on the couch and lifted his legs on the table.

“She’s not my love. I literally met her once,” Jay informed him, already regretting telling Dave about this.

“Why were you in a cafe at 2 AM anyway?” Justin asked, a curious look on his face.

Jay hated that look. And he hated that question. He shrugged, sighing. “I couldn’t sleep.”

“And you decided that drinking caffeine will help you fall asleep?” Justin deadpanned, shaking his head at Jay. “How are you passing classes with that logic?”

“Oh, that’s why you keep yawning,” Dave said at the same time.

“How was your date?” Jay tried changing the topic, looking at Justin.

Justin gave Jay a disapproving look, before shrugging at his question. “It was okay. We didn’t click, though, you know?”

“What’s his name again?” Dave said, coming back and placing the plate of french fries and chicken fingers between them.

“Aiden Fabela.” Justin grabbed a handful of fries and stuffed them into his mouth. “He goes to Parkside High. Speaking of Parkside, are we still going to the Homecoming game?”

I don’t know,” Dave grimaced. “I think Coach hates me for quitting this year. The team does, too.”

“Dave, dude, everyone loves you,” Justin chuckled as he said so, “I don’t think ‘hate’ and your name can be in the same sentence.”

“Besides, you’re going to be in the crowd,” Jay added. “He won’t even know you’re there.”

“Yeah,” Dave considered, taking a seat. “I’d have to go anyway. It’s Izzy’s senior night for cheer and everything.”

“Where is Suarez?” Justin asked, frowning as he took a few more fries. “I thought she would be here. That’s why I got extra fries.”

“She had work,” Dave eyed Jay, shaking his head slightly. “Jay also scared her away, probably.”

Jay threw a pillow at Dave. “I did not! I was nice, and I even apologized.”

“I’m kidding, relax,” Dave gently punched his knee before continuing onto something that happened in class that day.

Sometimes, Jay genuinely forgot how lucky he was to have the two of them as his friends. They genuinely wanted the best for him and were always willing to help him all the time.

He and Justin knew each other because their mothers went to an Asian club meeting. When they were kids, the two families would often have dinner together. While Jay had been born here, Justin had moved to the States from the Philippines when he was four. Jay’s parents had been a significant help to Justin’s family, making their transition to the new country easier.

When they were in fourth grade, Jay met Dave at a soccer camp. The two of them were the only ones from the same elementary school and hung out during the break.

Now, as seniors in high school, the three of them and their families had remained close.

They were the only ones Jay could tolerate for the last few weeks for their concern. He didn’t know why. He was usually a laid-back guy. But it was as though the words “are you okay?” made him angry automatically, irrespective of who they were coming from.

He wanted to tell the person how stupid of a question that was. How would he be okay? His best friend in the whole goddamn world was no more. And no matter what he did, he couldn’t forget about his brother. How could he?

But he could never say that. He would have to nod gently, smile, and tell them that he was okay. And it broke him, every time he did that. He felt like he was betraying his brother while lying about how he felt. He didn’t want Adi to think that he was okay. That he wasn’t hurting about his death.

Justin and Dave were the only ones who didn’t frustrate him.

Justin had come over as soon as his parents told him. He had hugged Jay before asking if he wanted to talk. Jay recalled how red his eyes were, the only thing that made him remember that Adi was like Justin’s older brother too. He assumed that Dave had found out through Justin. Dave had become Jay’s personal chauffeur, as though knowing that Jay would be physically scared of driving, even skipping his practice at times. Jay had thought about telling him that it wasn’t needed, but the thought of driving made him want to throw up. And the two of them had tolerated Jay’s snarkiness regularly for the last three weeks, never getting mad at him.


He jumped up at the sound of his name to see the two of them looking at him.

“What were you thinking of?” Dave asked, laughing at Jay’s surprised expression.

He just shrugged, yawning again before shaking his head. “Just thinking.”

Justin and Dave exchanged looks but didn’t say anything. “We were thinking of going to that carnival tomorrow?”

“There’s a carnival tomorrow?” Jay asked, suddenly feeling more tired than ever. He closed his eyes before blinking a few times, trying to get rid of the drowsiness.

“Yep, it’s a fall carnival thing.” Justin eyed Jay intently, frowning noticeably.

Jay didn’t want to go. Lately, he didn’t want to do anything. All he wanted to do was stay at home and sleep. But this would be the fourth thing in the last two weeks he would be refusing to go to. And as much as his friends assured him that it wasn’t a big deal, he knew that sometimes they got annoyed.

He nodded, “Sure. Sounds fun.”

“You sure?” Dave asked, noticing how half-hearted he seemed. “We don’t have to go if you don’t feel like it.”

Justin hummed along.

Jay smiled slightly, “I’m sure. When is it?”

“It starts at six, I think?”

Jay internally sighed but nodded. He never ended up showing up.

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