Chapter 41: Condolences
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George arrives at the hospital, in the morgue, where the body of Gemma lies. And George mourns for her death. Mark also joins with him but with less vigor, consoling now his father.

The next day, they held a wake for her and their friends and relatives paid their homage. Night comes when Justin arrives. Mark sees him and Justin immediately gives him a hug. With their embrace, their friendship remains strong in the midst of chaos.

“I’m here for you, bud. I’m sorry for your loss. Everything will turn out for good to those who love God.”

“Thank you, Justin. I don’t know what God has in store, even with this situation. I’m just lost, bro.”

Justin pats him on the back and says, “You’ll get through this, bro.”

They then let each other go as they go along in the living room, where his mother’s casket lay, and sit beside each other on the couch.

“Why does this have to happen, Justin? She did nothing wrong. She was fine for the past months. We ate together; we enjoyed each moment with her, but she just left us,” Mark says to Justin.

Justin didn’t say a word and silence fell between them. For a while, they only picked and ate some snacks until Justin broke the ice.

“I wondered also why my parents left me.”

Mark contorts his face, “What do you mean? You still have your parents, right? That’s what you said to me.”

“I’m sorry, Mark. I lied. My mother passed from an illness that we didn’t know, we’re too poor to check her up to a hospital. And my dad passed while at work, it was a quick death. This was before I came here in Toledo, that was when I was in San Carlos.”

“Justin, I’m so sorry for your loss. I didn’t know.”

“It’s fine. I hid it so that no one could see my dark and miserable past. Now that’s all behind, I want to forge a new road ahead.”

“I wonder if I could do that too.”

Silence again fell between them, but now, it’s in a consoled atmosphere. They picked up again some snacks and sat on the couch.

While they are eating, Mark shoots a quick glance at his friend and then looks straight ahead.

“Justin. How did you do it? I mean, how did you move on from it? It’s hard. I mean why?”

Justin sighs and says, “I don’t know, Mark. I don’t know much about deep things, especially about the Bible. But somehow I remembered what you taught me: Everything will work out for good to those who love God. That verse enlightened me on why my parents died the way they did. For years, I’ve struggled, Mark. But… it’s just the way it is.”

While they are talking, they see a familiar face walking towards them. They get up and meet him.

“Cesar!” they exclaimed.

Cesar handshakes Mark and gives him a hug.

“I’m sorry for your loss, Mark. We’re here for you.”

“Thank you, Cesar. Appreciate it.”

Cesar lets him go and handshakes Justin. With a few trivial talks, they walk towards the living room couch.

They sit on the couch with Mark in the middle.

Mark starts the conversation, while facing Cesar, saying, “So, who won today’s match?”

“We played against the YC Archers. And to put it plainly, we lost. They rained threes on us. They’re a well-oiled machine, Mark. It’s not easy to guard them since the ball goes everywhere with their passing. They have one player who could drive to the basket but others are shooters, especially those two who could shoot threes. They’re the same grade as us, second-year junior high school,” Cesar says.

“Oh, really? Who are those two who could shoot threes?” Mark’s eyes widened.

“They’re like Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. Ocampo is a solid three-point shooter and de la Peña can shoot threes but he’s only a backup shooter compared to Ocampo. If one of them is guarded, then they pass it to the other and shoot a three. They’re like Golden State.”

“Dang. It’s hard to face a team who plays like the Golden State.”

Silence fell once again but Cesar quickly broke it.

“It’s ok. We can win next time,” realizing what he just said, Cesar bowed his head low with his hand over his face.

“What? What’s the matter?” Mark looks at both of his friends beside him.

“I shouldn’t have said that, but we’ll try our best to defeat them,” says Cesar.

“Why? Why are you worried?”

“It’s because, Mark, they’re the best team in the tournament. It’s impossible to beat them,” Justin interjects. “Coach told us that it’s impossible to defeat them even if you’re gonna be playing.”

“Oh. Is it the VCF Lions?” says Mark.

“Yes, Mark. We’re playing against THE VCF Lions. We don’t need to worry, we have our training at our disposal. We know how to deal with them,” says Cesar.

“Now, that makes me want to play,” Mark says excitedly.

Cesar holds up his hands and says, “You don’t need to play, Mark. You’re mourning for now. It’s not good for your mental health to play from the death of a loved one.”

“I guess you’re right, Cesar. I’m not in a good condition, mentally and emotionally. I’m gonna take your advice. Thank you, Cesar. Anyways, I didn’t know yet, who won yesterday’s game?”

Cesar is wide-eyed with a hint of embarrassment, “Yesterday? Hehe. Uhm. We played against the CCI Badgers, and… we lost that one too.”

“What?! How? And Why?”

“Well, I would say that they are like the 2014 Spurs,” Cesar says with a slight chuckle.

“Yeah, Mark. They are just BULLYING us back there. We can’t easily guard them,” says Justin. “They’re like Cesar with five of them on the floor.”

Cesar blushes and gestures with a hand, “Oh, stahhp it.”

The trio laughs and then Mark says to them, “Can they shoot threes?”

“Rarely,” Justin says. “But they’re always moving. Just as I’ve said, they are like Cesar but multiplied by five.”

The trio laughs again when George passes by to see them.

“Good evening, Justin and Cesar.”

Justin and Cesar reach out their hands for his blessing and George consents. His hand touches their foreheads as a sign of respect.

“So, how’s the game this morning,” George says with a smile.

“We lost,” Cesar replies. “But we’ll try to win next time.”

“That’s good. I hope you win because I would make a feast and buy a big lechon if you win a championship,” George says with a hearty laugh.

“Really, dad? That would be awesome.”

George chuckles and says to Mark, “Of course. You all deserve a feast. But if you won’t win a championship, it’s fine. I’ll make a small feast though without the big lechon, it’s gonna hurt my cash.” He again gives out another hearty laugh. “I’m gonna leave you trio to yourselves, I’m gonna attend to the guests for now. See ya boys.”

“See ya, Uncle,” Justin and Cesar say to him.

Invaluable time has passed by, and it’s now late in the evening. They have been talking for hours and it seems like it won’t end. But good times always end with a farewell. Justin and Cesar go home, bidding Mark and George farewell.

Mark bids his father a good night’s sleep.

“Good night, kiddo. You can play basketball tomorrow. But if you can’t, it’s ok. Just attend your classes.”

Mark goes straight to bed while George stays in the living room where his wife lies. On his bed, Mark stares at the ceiling for a while.

“God,” Mark says. “I don’t know what’s in store for me. But I have no choice but to trust you. Take the wheel, Lord.”

After a while, Mark drifts into sleep.