Michael’s Tagalog is conyo at best. He can understand Tagalog with no problem, but don’t count on him to string together a sentence in it without having to resort to the kind of Taglish that he’s sure would make his mom wince. He only ever speaks it at home to his family, so he doesn’t get too much practice. But if there’s one thing Michael does a lot in Tagalog, it’s swear.
“Tangina!” Michael says over Jeremy’s victorious whooping. On screen, the K.O. flashes almost mockingly. “I can’t believe this. All our years of friendship and you kill me without a second thought?”
“Dude, you were gonna do the same, so like, suck it up. I win.” Jeremy grins. He leans back into the beanbag while Michael stands up and rummages around for something disgusting and sugary to shove into his mouth.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Bask in it while you can, Jer, ‘cuz I’m not letting you win the next round.”
“What’d you say? I can’t hear you over all the sore loser in the air.”
Michael throws a Reese Cup at Jeremy’s head. Jeremy sticks out his tongue at him.
“Hey, what’d that thing you say awhile ago mean?” Jeremy asks, handing over the Reese Cup to Michael. Real friendship is surrendering the snack projectile you just got pelted with because you know your friend still totally wants to eat it.
“That thing you said like, right when you lost.”
“Oh, ‘tangina’?” Jeremy nods. “Standard Tagalog curse word. You know this already.”
“Yeah, but like, what does it mean y’know? It never hurts to have a few more swears in my vocabulary.” He tells Michael, turning to him. Ridiculously earnest, he says, “Can you teach me some? It’d be cool to know curse in another language.”
“Okay, okay. It, uh. Tangina comes from putang ina which is a shortened form of puta ang ina mo which literally translates to ‘your mom is a whore’. But now it’s just an all around swear.”
“How do you use it?”
“Uh, it’s pretty versatile? Like I guess it can work like how the word fuck works. Fuck it. Fuck this. Fuck. Tangina mo, if you want to use it on somebody specifically, like fuck you.” Michael laughs at Jeremy’s very focused look. “Try saying it. Tangina.”
“Tahng eeh-na.” Jeremy says. Michael tries really hard, he really does, but he doubles back in laughter. “What? Shut up! I said it just like you did!”
“No, you fucking didn’t, oh god.” Michael takes a deep breath. Jeremy is pouting at him, god. This boy. “Try again, but like. Whatever you were doing with your vowels? Don’t do it.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
“I dunno, just try again. Tangina.”
“Tahh—You’re smiling already, jerk.” Jeremy plucks the Reese Cup Michael had apparently just been holding this entire time and throws it at him. “Tahng eeh nuh mow!”
“Oh geez, oh god,” Michael is wheezing. Somewhere out there, his mom just got a headache out of nowhere. Who’s conyo now, mom? “You’ve at least got the aggression down, man. One last time, I’ll help you out, now, really.”
“You’re just gonna laugh again,” Jeremy rolls his eyes.
“I swear, I won’t! One last time, please?” He bats his eyelashes. Jeremy’s told him before that this just makes Michael look like he got dirt in his eye.
“Okay, fine.” Jeremy breathes in. “Ta—”
Michael grabs Jeremy’s face.
“—what.” Jeremy says.
“No, no, keep going.” Michael says. For a guy with such an angular face, Jeremy has soft cheeks. “When you do the vowels you make them too big. I’ll stop you from doing that.”
“Taa—” Michael squeezes Jeremy’s face, and the ‘a’ sound that comes out is not exactly music to Michael’s ears, but it’s more bearable. “—ngeeh—”
“Less of an ‘eeh’ and more of an ‘ih’.”
“Ih?” Jeremy tilts his head.
“Yeah, there, better!” Michael lets go of Jeremy. “Last syllable now.”
“A little shorter. Na.”
“Batman,” Michael couldn’t resist, and Jeremy actually laughs. “You got it, though! Now all together.”
Jeremy takes a second to compose himself. “Tangina,” he says, it doesn’t sound too much like mangled American garbage.
“There’s my boy!” Michael claps and gives Jeremy a standing ovation.
“Thank you, thank you,” Jeremy stands up too and makes a big show of bowing to the one man audience in the room. “What else can you teach me?”
“What else do you wanna know?” Michael says, finally eating the goddamn Reese Cup.
“Uh, how do you say,” Jeremy mumbles something incomprehensible.
“How do you say,” more mumbling.
“Speak up, buddy, these glasses help me see, not hear.”
“I said. Uh. How do you say ‘I love you’?”
Michael chokes on peanut butter cup goodness.
“Oh, wow, holy shit,” Michael coughs. Is his face warm? It better fucking not be. Pull yourself together, Mell. Breathe. “Where’d this sudden romantic side of you come from?”
Jeremy, uncharacteristically calm, shrugs. “I figure it could be a nice icebreaker for Christine, or something? I don’t know. It’s stupid, you don’t have to tea—”
“Mahal kita,” Michael says. The ache in his chest now has nothing to do with chocolate and peanut butter. The things he does for this boy. This boy. “I love you in Tagalog is mahal kita.”
“Oh,” Jeremy says. “That’s just two words, though.”
“Love is mahal. The I and you come together to become one word; kita. Romantic right?” Michael pushes his glasses up his face and focuses on something else, anything else in the room that isn’t Jeremy.
“Mah-hahl kee-tah,” Jeremy says, then his face scrunches up, seemingly aware of the abomination he managed to say. “Ma-hahl? Mahal? Mahal kita? Am I saying it right? Mahal kita?” Jeremy looks Michael straight in the eye and says “Mahal kita.”
Michael’s soul is being ripped from his body as he speaks. If this is a good thing or a bad thing, he’ll decide later when he’s alone and Jeremy fuckin’ Heere isn’t around to tell him he loves him.
“Yeah, you’re saying it right, buddy,” he twirls the cord of his headphones around his finger, ignoring the burn in his face. “You’ve got my seal of approval.”
“Thanks,” Jeremy grins, completely unaware. “You know, for somebody who still makes the bunny ears when tying shoelaces, you’re a pretty good teacher.”
“Gago ka,” Michael throws a wrapper at Jeremy. “Don’t diss the bunny ears. We were taught that way for a reason.”
“What did that mean?” Jeremy asks. “Gago ka.”
“Uh, well. Ka means you, and gago—” The ache in Michael’s chest dissipates slightly, forgotten instead for the iron control he needs to not laugh right now and give himself away. “Gago means best friend.”
“So, Michael, I’m your gago?”
“Cool,” Jeremy says. “You’re my gago too.”
Somewhere out there, Michael’s mom’s headache just turned into a migraine.
“Wouldn’t have it any other way, Jeremy.” Michael says, keeping a straight face only due to years of practice of schooling his features in front of Jeremy. “Now, come on. I’ve got sugar in my system and vengeance in my soul. Get ready to get beat!”
“Oh yeah, dream on, gago.” Jeremy says, smiling, giddy at the new word.
Michael will probably have to tell him some time that gago does not mean best friend, probably before Jeremy ends up saying it in front of Michael’s family and Michael’s mom whacks him upside the head, but that’s something for another day. Now, he grabs his controller and sets up a new game. Now, he tries to will away the ache in his chest. Now, he glances over to Jeremy, relaxed smile on his face illuminated by the TV screen.
Tangina, Michael thinks. Tangina.