The most he could do – and it was what he had always ended up doing over the years they had been friends – was help her forget.
Clearing his throat, he said briskly, “Seri.” When she looked up, he told her, “I’m going to give you five more minutes to be emo, but after that – no more moping around, ‘kay?”
Seri smiled despite herself. “You make it sound easy.”
“4 minutes 50 seconds left,” he said.
She laughed and cried at the same time. “Oh, Davey.”
“4 minutes 45 seconds left, so make the most out of it. If I were you, I’d start crying,” he said helpfully. After calling for a waiter and asking for a menu, he looked at Seri in amazement. “Why aren’t you still crying?”
And just like that, a bubble of laughter escaped her the same time her pain started to fade. She could only shake her head as Davey ordered himself a T-bone and wine, and when he caught her looking, he said defensively, “I’m hungry, okay? We had tests all day, and then I had to work on a stupid report until ten.”
“I didn’t say anything,” she pointed out helplessly.
“Hmph. I can feel you judging me with your I’m-so-good-at-managing-my-time look.” When she opened her mouth, he raised his hand to stop her from speaking. “You only have three minutes left, miss. Get on with your crying.”
But the more he told her to cry, she thought in relief, the less she felt like it.
When the five-minute time limit was up, he took a careful look on Seri’s face before asking, “Better now?”
“Surprisingly, yes.” Her tone was wry but grateful.
“Good.” He looked at her expectantly. “Now, tell me about Japan.”
She did, starting with an apology for being missing in action during those two months she had been away. “I stayed at a retreat in Kawaguchiko and went completely off the grid. No cellphone, no Internet, no TV – nothing modern.”
Davey wrinkled his nose in distaste. “Why? Did you suddenly realize your calling’s to be a—-” He paused. “I’m not even sure they have nuns there. Do they?”
Seri rolled her eyes. “Yes, Davey. Catholics also live in Japan, but actually that wasn’t it at all.” Biting her lip, she slowly confessed, “The truth is, I was a coward. After what happened with Vassi and—-” She almost said ‘Papa’ but caught herself in time.
Seeing his friend pale and easily guessing the reason behind it, Davey said hastily, “I get it.”
She swallowed. “I know they’ll never talk to me again, after what I said and did. But Sergei and Misha…”
When she didn’t say anything anymore, Davey asked hesitantly, “Has either of them tried contacting you since then?”
Her lips twisted. “That’s where the cowardice comes in, and that’s why I have a new number and email.”
He blinked. A moment later, it hit him, and Davey said slowly, “Oh.”
She hadn’t wanted to know if her brothers had cared enough to ask what was wrong.
Seri smiled painfully. “Like I said, I’m a coward.”
But at least cowards still lived and breathed.
If she had been braver and she had found out that Sergei and Misha also believed the worst of her—-
She closed her eyes, and old and cherished images danced before her.
A twelve-year-old, tough-looking Sergei patiently waiting for a seven-year-old Seri to finish with her ballet lessons even when his friends had teased him about being gay for spending so much time with tutu-wearing kids.
A fourteen-year-old Misha forgiving her on the spot when a ten-year-old Seri had accidentally poured orange juice on his science fair entry and effectively destroyed it.
There were so many good memories, Seri thought numbly. And they were all she had left.
It was almost one in the morning when she made it back at Max’s condo. Darkness shrouded most of the living room, with only the desk lamp switched on, and beside it was Max, dressed in shirt and jeans, holding a book in his hands.
“M-Max?” She was surprised but uneasy to find him still up.
“Good evening, Seri.” His tone was flat.
“G-good evening.” Almost feeling like she was about to be chastised, she slowly lowered herself beside him on the couch. When he didn’t say anything else, she said tentatively, “I’m sorry.”
“There’s nothing to be sorry about.”
“There is. I should have texted you that I’m coming home late—-”
“I would appreciate that next time, not to keep tabs on you, but so I at least know you’re alive.”
He stood up. “Then that’s enough for me. Misha—-”
She said sharply, “I don’t want to hear anything about him.”
Seeing the terror in her gaze, he said carefully, “Seri, it’s not—-”
“I know y-you mean well, okay?” A ghost of a smile formed on her lips. “But I just don’t want to hear anything about my family right now. I can’t. I just c-can’t.”
Max’s chest tightened in pain at how fragile Seri looked. “I understand. I’m sorry. I won’t talk about them again.”