Manuel almost jumped out of his skin as a heavy slap landed on his back. He didn’t even have to turn around to know who it was. There was only one person who greeted him that way; his good pal, Nathan.
“Hey buddy! What’s good?” Nathan asked, his voice filled with warmth and laughter as always.
That was one of the things that had drawn Manuel to him. Nathan was such a cheerful spirit, a sharp contrast to the melancholic Manuel was. Many often wondered how the two of them could have remained such good friends through college. In Manuel’s opinion, that was exactly why. He constantly needed someone like Nathan around to remind him that life could be happy too. And well, from time to time, he also kept Nathan in check.
“Nothing,” Manuel replied, rolling his eyes. “At least not after that slap you just gave me. You know Nathan, normal people greet their friends with hugs, handshakes or even kisses.”
Nathan wouldn’t stop grinning. “Well, I’ve never claimed to be normal, have I? What’s the fun in following rules when you can just break them?”
“I agree!” Luke, another of their friends chirped in.
Altogether, they were known as the three musketeers, each of them with different temperaments. Nathan was the Sanguine, and Luke was the Phlegmatic. Not that Manuel really paid much attention to this sort of things. He just knew that they were good people.
They were all in different departments, but same faculty, and on days when they weren’t taking the same courses, their classes somehow always ended at the same time.
Their classes were over, and they were now leaving school grounds, eager as always to get back to their comfy homes.
“Rules are meant to be broken!” Luke chimed again.
“Indeed, says the guy that wouldn’t wear a "fro" because his HOD frowns at it,” Manuel bantered in response.
That excited Nathan all too much..“Oouuhhh, low blow!”, he said.
“Fair game,” Luke replied, accepting the "L" in good fate.
That was the thing about Luke, he was always so good-natured and hardly took anything to heart.
“So, I heard it’s going to be a full moon tonight,” Nathan announced as they reached the parking lot. Of the three of them, he was also the rich kid who resumed with a new car every semester, usually one of the latest models. Since they all lived around the same vicinity, the rest of them hitched free rides all the time.
At the mention of full moon, Manuel froze. However, he was able to recover quickly, hiding his true emotions as he got into the back seat, letting Luke ride shotgun.
“Oh word?” Luke asked.
Nathan nodded, kick-starting the engine. “Yeaaahhh! The sky’s been really bright lately. It’s going to be even brighter tonight. The entire South Park is going to be lit! Music, alcohol, girllssss!”
“Games!” Luke piped in. He was obsessed with video games! “You know it, I’m down!”
Manuel was still listening to their conversation, but he’d since withdrawn into himself. When others in South Park celebrated the full moon with cheer, it was usually the most difficult time of the month for him. It was why he never left his cozy studio apartment on those nights. He stayed in, hidden, so that no one would know about the darkest parts he’d never opened up to anyone about.
“Manuel, how about you? Think you’re finally going to join us?”
Nathan’s words drew him out of his thoughts.
“Oh, I already have plans for tomorrow,” the excuse came easily. It was as a result of good practice. “I’ve got that test with Mrs. Wellington. I’ve got to study.”
His friends scoffed at his response, evidently not surprised at all.
“It’s always one thing or the other with you every full moon, Manuel,” Luke said.
“Remember I said this a long time ago, he’s definitely a werewolf, or a vampire who needs to hide from werewolves because they’re strongest at full moon.”
Manuel found that so ridiculous that he had to chuckle. “Yeah right. I might as well be a hybrid, Klaus’ protégé.” They were all laughing as Nathan drove out of their department’s parking lot.
The other boys continued to chat about everything and nothing as they drove. Manuel tried to give one or two inputs every now and then, but the truth was, he was withdrawing deeper and deeper into his shell.
By the time the car rolled to a stop in front of his apartment, it was a struggle, forcing himself to cheerfully wave them goodbye. As soon as they were out of sight, he turned around and began to walk towards his door, shoulder dropped, head fallen.
It was definitely going to be another long light.
He tried to do what he would always do every evening after school. A nap, assignment, some light reading, an early dinner. He even tried to pray, desperately hoping that this full moon would be different.
Alas, when night fell, and the moon came out in full glory, he realized that like every other month, since that night ten years ago, he would suffer, he would weep, and he would wish he could just disappear from the world where he had no one to call his own.
Tears filled his eyes, his chest growing tight with the heaviness of his heart as the memories started rushing back. Quickly, he began to draw his curtains, trying to cover every view of the moon that he could glimpse, but it didn’t matter.
The memories hit him, in even more rapid succession.
He and his mother taking a walk through the park as they often did. Her, asking him to wait so that she would go get a cone of his favorite ice cream.
Manuel would never forget looking up at the sky with childlike wonder, how could it be so dark, yet bright? He’d always loved the full moon, just as his mother. What he couldn’t remember though, was how long he stood there, staring at the stars, waiting for his mother to return. She never did.
It was almost midnight when a cop finally took him to the nearest station. It took another three months, looking for his mother to no avail, for him to finally accept the truth. He had been abandoned.
Abandoned by that one person who had sworn to always love him, and never leave his side.
Manuel was on the floor now, trembling, as he tried to ward off the voices.
“You’re not worthy of love!”
“No one will stay with you forever!”
“Even your friends will leave you!"
“No!” he cried out. “No, please no! Leave me alone! Please! Please!”
“It’s the truth, you know it’s the truth. It’s only a matter of time!”
Shivering now, Manuel fought to breathe. Why had she abandoned him? Why did she lie to him? Why didn’t she want him anymore?
Tears streamed down his face and he shut his eyes tight, curling into a ball. He didn’t know how much longer he could continue to suffer like this. The pain was too much for him to bear. If only all of it could just end… after all, he had no family. No one would miss him.
Manuel opened his eyes, only to find Luke and Nathan staring at him.
He was overwhelmed with shock. When did they come in? Why didn’t he hear them enter? Did he forget to lock his door? Just then, it occurred to him that they all had the passcodes to their homes.
“Man, what’s wrong? What happened?” Nathan asked, his voice filled with concern.
Manuel bowed his head, ashamed that they had finally seen him in his ugly state. There was no more hiding now. The truth he had tried to keep for the past three years of friendship, he could no longer afford to lie. Or perhaps, he could?
“What are you guys doing here?” he asked, clearing his throat, when his voice sounded hoarse from crying.
Luke brandished his diary then. “You left this in the car. It must have fallen out of your bag. We didn’t read it, but we thought you’d want to have it back. We know how crazy you are about your diary. We also figured we could check up on you and convince you to come to Southpark with us one last time. Are you sure you’re okay?”
“Does he look okay?” Nathan asked again, visibly upset. “Come now, Manuel. We’ve been friends for what? Three years now? You know you can tell us anything. We’ve always suspected that something was up, but we didn’t want to pry all this time. Notwithstanding, we want you to know that we’re here for you. You don’t have to go through it alone, whatever it is.”
Manuel dragged in a deep breath then. They were right. He could no longer bear this burden alone. He’d tried for over a decade and things only continued to get worse. His mother might have abandoned him, and he might never have known his father, but Luke and Nathan, he could trust. Rather than lie, it might just be time to finally let someone in.
Shuddering as he exhaled a shaky breath, he finally opened up.
“Guys, I think I need to see a therapist.” He swallowed hard. “It all started ten years ago, when I was only 11. My mom, she…”
It was just the first step, he knew. However, it was also the most important. He could only hope and trust that with the help of his friends, perhaps, he would finally be able to find healing.
And that some day, the full moon wouldn’t hurt as much, anymore.
This is my entry for the The Ink Well Prompt #48. Click HERE to be a part of it.
Thanks for reading.