Here & After by Saim Cheeda

Here we are! The great escape is almost complete. The airport. College, here I come. But let’s be honest, you know what you’re really excited about. Freedom. I know mom must still be crying her eyes out but it’s the same reaction she had when my first tooth fell out, I have to admit I will miss her but, no more curfew time. I feel Dad’s eyes on me, the old guy’s going to divert his attention to Mikey now, poor little sucker’s going to be at every ball game at school even though he hates it.
Here & After
Here & After by Saim Cheeda
“Here we go, you get your freedom”, Dad says. “Nah, I actually think I’m having second thoughts now.” “You may be going to college but you’re still not smart enough to hide that face from me”. “I have no idea what you’re talking about”, I reply. Am I being that obvious? “Sure you don’t”, says Dad, he sighs the next second. “Doesn’t seem like there’s anything else to say but…” “Let’s not make this uncomfortable, Dad”, I say giving him a hug. “Remember to call when you get there”, he shouts as he leaves. “You bet!” I shout back. This is it. I’m free! Her Wow! This place is full. A lot of the people here are my age. Maybe I could strike up a conversation with one of them on the flight, I’d like to know as much as possible how the independent fresh student thinks. I hope the one who sits next to me on the flight’s a girl. I don’t want to risk getting stuck with an overly confident guy hoping to score on his first night of freedom. I don’t want to be one of those college students who gets broke by the time the first week ends so I should take it easy with the expenses. I reach into my bag for the book but don’t find it. Oh, no! I forgot it. Great, now all I have to look forward to on the plane is listening to my heart thump. Come on, don’t start panicking. Air travel is one of the most common ways to go around. There’s absolutely nothing to worry about. I find myself at the bookstore. “Excuse me, do you have Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone?” I ask the guy at the counter. “I think I only saw one more left”. I walk ahead and find the last copy of the book. Trouble is it’s in someone else’s hands. Their “Umm, is that the last copy left?” I look up; a girl stands, eyeing the book in my hands. “You know it”, I reply. “Oh, so are you buying it or just browsing?” I actually don’t know much about this book but an opportunity’s just presented itself. “I think I’m going to buy”, I reply. She looks disappointed. “How about I buy it, and I give it to you once we’ve landed”, she says. Oh no, I’m not going to make it that easy. “I don’t know”, I say sounding genuinely interested in the book. “You see, I’ve got this slight fear of flying and I need the book to distract myself on the plane.” “Well there’s always a first time for everything. I think you should face your fears today”. I reply. Girls like boys who treat them like crap. Or so I’ve heard. “Come on, I’ll give it back to you.” “Fine, but let me buy it for you.” “No, it’s alright I’ll buy it myself.” “Ok, let’s make a deal, I buy the book and you can buy me some coffee”. I say, feeling all smooth. “Or you can just let me buy the book.” “How about this, I buy the book and we can discuss it together.” “Just give me the book and we can both be on our way”. She looks annoyed now. “Hey, I gave you your choices, feel free to pick one.” “Look, I’m not one of those easy girls who’ll fall for that.” “Come on, lady, a movie based on this book just came out, you should have just watched it by now”, I find myself saying, looks like this really has gotten out of my grasp. “You know what, you can keep the book. I’d rather face the turbulence than stand around talking to you.” She storms off. Ok, that was a disaster. No worries, she was just the first of many. Wait, that doesn’t sound too encouraging. I swear. The nerve of some boys, why do they think that just because a girl’s alone they want someone to hit on her? I feel sorry for the one who gets stuck next to him. I don’t think any girl deserves that. There was some truth to that situation though, college girls are easy. All around me guys are picking up girls. Why is this even bothering me so much anyway? I hear the announcement. Finally, time to go. Wait, I forgot to buy a book. Well, I’ll just have to rough it out. Like that guy said, there’s always a first time. Time to face my fear. Most of the passengers are already on the plane, I hope I get seated with someone nice who can help me during turbulence. I feel comfortable already, maybe this won’t be a bad flight after all. A girl approaches. “Excuse me, I think you’re sitting in my seat”. She shows her ticket. “Oh, sorry about that.” I turn around and notice the person in the seat next to mine. “Alright, Fine! You can have the book if you want it so badly!” It’s the boy from the bookstore. “What are you doing here?” The girl asks me, confused. “Well, the general idea of traveling on an airplane is to get one from one destination to another as quickly as possible.” “Are you sure you’re in the right seat?” “I’m starting to wish I wasn’t.” “You know, I don’t want to get into this”, she says. “Don’t tell me you’re sitting next to me”. “Ok, I won’t tell you that. How about you just sit there while I sit here and we don’t talk at all.” “Fine, I don’t want to talk to you anyway.” “That is great news”, she replies with a cheery tone. Man, this girl is a piece of work. We both sit quietly after that. A little while later her breathing gets louder. Maybe she’s just doing this to get my attention, I’ll just sit here and pretend I don’t notice anything. She must be getting thirsty by now what with all the huffing going around with her. “Excuse me, can I have get some earplugs?” I ask the stewardess. The girl looks annoyed. Good, I’ve only just started to have fun. I take out the book having no idea what I’m reading but I’m sure it’ll annoy her. “This is some book” I say, making it sound as if I’m talking to myself. “I can’t believe he did that! Didn’t see that coming”. She still isn’t budging. She has her eyes closed. I nudge her slightly making it look as if I just shifted in my seat. She opens her eyes in surprise. I hear her giggle. “That must be a really good book you’re reading there”, she says, look who’s all interested in me now. I knew I could get this girl to start talking. “Oh yeah, too bad you didn’t get it”, I reply offhandedly. “You must be great at reading too”, she says with a smile. Girls, so easily impressed. “Well, I was good at my Literature class.” “I’m sure you were”, she says, “It takes real talent to read upside down.” “What?” I look at my hand and I see the book was on the wrong side the whole time. The girl bursts out laughing. “No, actually I was trying to check something, that’s all”. I don’t think that was a good recovery. I can’t stop myself laughing. The poor guy probably thought he was being all impressive. The lights dim down and my cheery mood evaporates away. I begin breathing heavily again, maybe I can take out my cell and play Snake on it to distract myself but the stewardess sternly tells me to switch it off. I close my eyes as the plane starts to gain speed and go horribly fast right before ascent. “You know, I think even the pilot can hear you right now”, the boy says. Great, he picks up a new thing to comment on. “I don’t know if you are a generally less attentive person or if you didn’t understand what I said before but I have a fear of flights”, I snap at him, keeping my eyes closed. “Like I said before, face your fear. I used to be scared of heights but I decided to go bungee jumping so I could get it out of my system.” “So what happened when you ‘faced your fear’?” I ask sarcastically. “What do you think?” he replies with an obvious face. After a moments silence he continues “I ended up puking in midair and came very close to having another accident a little south of throwing up”, he says in a small voice. I laugh. “At least you got over your fear of heights”. “Well, if you consider closing your eyes and whimpering like a kid every time you’re in a high place”, he says, “Point is, I do that quietly without disturbing anyone”. “Well, I’ll keep that in mind the next time I’m on a flight, right now I have to get through this takeoff ordeal of mine.” “Consider the ordeal won then”, he replies. I open my eyes, the lights are back on. We’re airborne. “I can’t believe it”, I say out loud to myself. “I didn’t feel like throwing up even once!” “Could have fooled me”, the boy says. “Well, it is a big step up for me”. He has been a jerk until now but he did help. I guess I should take it easy with the resentment. “You may go back to reading your upside down book”. “Nah, you’re a little more fun to watch”, I tell her, she is a different sort of person. The whole bravado she had going on back at the airport may have been fake, I’d like to know what she’s thinking. “How about we make this plane ride entertaining, then?” “You don’t have to keep me occupied, I just get nervous during takeoff and landing.” “I know I don’t have to…” I let my sentence fade out without finishing it. “Well then, why are you?” “I don’t know, maybe because I’ve never travelled without family before so I think it would be a nice change of speed to talk to someone other than my mom on a flight. And now that we are adults going to college, I say we play the game of speaking to strangers, it involves not constantly fighting over a book and actually talking about something real.” “Fighting over the book sounds like more fun to me”, she says. “You will not let it go, will you?” I say exasperatedly . “You don’t pick up sarcasm easily, do you?” she replies. “Well, what do you think I meant before? That was me being sarcastic”, Good recovery, I think. “Ok, why don’t you tell me something about yourself?” “Ok, I think I would call myself a closed book sort of person, you’d have to pick me up and understand who I am”. “You know, I’m starting to see a pattern here with you”, I say. “And I really was trying to have a decent conversation this time”. “Last book reference I promise,” She says with a smile. “It’s good to know that you do make jokes when you’re not having a panic attack”. “I can be a very humorous person, you know. My middle school teacher used to say I was the funniest student she knew.” “Ah, so we finally know something about you”, I say, “So there is proof that you attended middle school.” “So, what have you gathered about me till now?” “Just that you are a girl scared of airplanes, loves buying books and were funny in middle school”, I tell her, “How about me?” “Let’s see, you are someone who loves his mom, gets the last available book, has an ‘accident while bungee jumping’ and reads upside down English”. “I can see glimpses of that long lost middle school sense of humor”. “Who said it was lost?” “Fine, long dormant then”. “At least I have been slightly amusing, which is more than what I can say about you”. “I’m withholding my funny side from you on purpose”, I tell her, “If I unleashed it, the plane could crash due to forced turbulence, so I’m doing it for the good of everyone here”. “Very funny”, she says but laughs all the same, “That was really lame by the way”. “Hey, it got you laughing didn’t it?” I stand by my joke, “End result is what counts, that’s why I always cheated in my exams”. “Really? How did you pass school?” “I just told you”. “Don’t tell me you cheated on your finals”, she says surprised. “How did you manage that?” “When you’ve studied this art for as long as I have, it just comes to you naturally”. “You are aware of the saying ‘cheaters never prosper’, aren’t you?” “It got me to college, didn’t it?” I defend myself, “Let me guess, a surefire honor student, weren’t you?” “Well, I don’t know about honors, but I guess getting a special achievements award could count”, she says offhandedly. “Look at you, or should I say look at me sitting next to one of the smart ones of our generation”, I joke. “Maybe I should take another shortcut in my life and marry you, you could easily be the breadwinner, I don’t mind being a trophy husband.” “Being one of the smart ones means that I’m smart enough to not do that”, she says amusedly. “I do know though that brains aren’t enough, you were also a teacher’s pet, weren’t you?” “I was not, how dare you suggest that?” I say with mock outrage. “Fine, you weren’t a teacher’s pet but did you get your teacher a pet?” “Unless you count gifting a cactus as a pet”, I say, the boy bursts out laughing. “A cactus is a pet, my powers of deduction are strong as ever.” He may be kind of a jerk, a lame one at that, but he is amusing. Still, people like him should grow up eventually and now that he’s going to college, the sooner the better. “See, why do you have to do that? Just when we start to have a real conversation.” “I think it’s nice to be light headed.” “Yeah, but you don’t need to be like that all the time.” “Isn’t this the age to be like that?” he asks, “I’m 19 years old and pretty soon I’m going to have to be responsible, don’t you think this is the exact right time to be, well, kind of goofy?”. I pause for a while, taking in his words. “Hmm, that actually does make some sense”, I concede, he does make a fair point. But doesn’t that depend on what sort of background a person is from? Maybe he’s had it easy until now but what about someone like me? “You’ve been staring into space for a while now”, I hear his voice, “How long before I start feeling concerned?” I come back to reality. “Sorry, I do that sometimes. I suppose you are right in one way but don’t you think it’s time to at least start being more mature?” “Who says I’m not? I can be mature if I get the chance but no one comes to me during those times when I can show them.” “Let me guess, you’re the sort of person who everyone comes to have a light moment with but who never gets considered when someone wants to talk about something real?” “Wow, that basically sums up my life”, the boy says, “How did you guess that, is it because you think I’m not mature?” “No, it’s because I have the exact opposite role in my life, or should I say others”, I tell him, I seem to be having a sort of moment of clarity. “You know, sometimes I would actually like to know what that feels like”, he says, now sounding different than he has since I’ve met him. “To be taken seriously.” “Why? Getting tired of the goofy act already? I thought you liked it.” “I do but I think it would be a nice change of speed to be considered something different. I’m sure people frolic over to you with some kind of dilemma, right?” “You could say that, but I don’t think it’s that great to be considered as the serious person. People do ask me certain things but they don’t take me seriously either.” “That doesn’t make sense. How can they not take you seriously?” “It’s a different kind of serious. They think that I always think of the worst case scenario, that I over think and it makes my advice sort of irrelevant”. We both sit in silence after that, Looks like I’ve bummed another person out, this has to be some accomplishment because I don’t think I’d ever seen someone as peppy as him. “Maybe your advice is irrelevant, because I barely know you, but in this case your opinion is kind of spot on.” I hear him saying. That took me by surprise, is he actually saying I made sense? Because I didn’t really understand what I just said a little while ago, myself. “We’re kind of in the same boat, you and I. If you think about, in just different ways we’re both considered inadequate.” “Those are some deep words, person I’ve barely known for an hour”. “Maybe this was just an act so you see me as a mature person”. “If it was, then you were successful, at least in your own way”. “Ah-ha so my evil plan worked… hey, what do you mean ‘in my own way’?” “Maybe it was my evil plan to know you more than you know me, did you think about it like that?” “How do you figure that?” he asks. “During our mature conversation a while ago you told me you were 19”, I tell him. “You don’t know how old I am, I could easily be 30 years old”. “That’s alright, I’m into older women anyway”, he jokes. The plane begins to wobble slightly. I catch my breath for a second. Think calm thoughts. It’s only a slight bit of turbulence. Don’t overthink; just be light headed like the guy next to you. Look at her, she is sort of charming in her phobia. She reminds me of a child, not because she’s immature or anything. Sometimes children can speak of mature things like she does but in the next instant give into a childlike tendency, in her case it’s her fear of planes. As for me, maybe I am immature but I’m sure there’s still time for me to grow up, after all I’m going to college. I think I should give it a minute before I speak again plus she thinks I’m piling on the layers of funny a bit much and I want her to take me seriously too. I think I would like everyone in college to see different sides of me rather than the goof. Why am I thinking so much? Is it because I’ve been talking to her? I guess I should soothe her, she doesn’t seem to calming down. “You know, we’ve spoken about real things but not exactly. Don’t you think?” I ask her. It takes her a while to get her bearings. She opens one eye and looks at me. “What do you mean?” she asks. “I mean, I know something about your personality but I don’t know what it is that you plan to do in life, what’s ahead?” “I haven’t actually thought about any of that. I don’t even know what I’m going to do once we get there.” I stare at her. Wasn’t she supposed to be an over thinker? “Really?” I ask, surprised. “No, I just wanted to see what your reaction would be like if I said that” she chortles. She got me again, I really cannot figure out how she thinks. She is one interesting person. “Well, it’s like almost everyone on this plane. College. I’m not really 30 years old you know.” “Darn, just when I thought I could score with an older woman.” “Trust me, you wouldn’t be scoring with me if I was 19 or 30.” “Oh, so you happen to be 19 too.” “Yes, there are other people in the world the same as you.” “So I’ve caught up, haven’t I? Now I know you’re 19 and off to college, too. We’re both even in the get-to-know you game.” “Oh, so this was your plan after all?” “Told you I was an evil mastermind.” “You know there is still hope in the older women scenario”, I continue, “You wouldn’t happen to have been born in January?” “You’re making this game too easy for me”, she says, “Now I know that you were born in February.” “No, little miss know-it-all I was born on 31st January”, I mock her, “Not right all the time, are you?” “I got you to tell me your birthday didn’t I?” she shows off. “Oh, you’re better than I thought”, I say, “So all hope lost in the older women dream of mine?” “Unless January comes in June.” “See? Two can play at this game.” “Hey, I already won. I just gave you a big hint because I didn’t want this to be a mismatch.” “Sure you didn’t”, I say casually. “You think you know everything, don’t you?” “Hey, now that it is confirmed that I’m the older one here”, I begin, “You should take my wisdom under consideration and understand that I know enough.” “What is that supposed to mean?” she asks. “When you’re as old as I am you’ll understand.” “So I have to wait only 5 months.” “A lot can happen in 5 months you know, what matters is that I’ll always be in the lead.” I stare out the window for a while thinking of another topic to talk about. It’s pitch black out there, I don’t even see any stars. She’s looking out as well, I’d better start talking again. “So, what’s your next objective when you get there?” I ask her. “We haven’t even discussed what we’re studying at college.” “Do you like buildings?” she asks me. “Can’t get enough of them, whenever I’m out with friends I tell them, hey guys let’s go hang out at some buildings.” “Well, you’ll be happy to know that I intend to make some new hangout spots for you.” “Oh, so am I talking to the next big architect?” “Yes, you have my permission to tell this story in the future to amazed fans of mine.” “Yeah, everyone I know intently loves architects.” “I think, maybe enough layers of sarcasm”, she says. “Are you sure? Because I’d be happy to pile on a little more”, I offer her. “Ok, smart mouth what about you?” She asks me. “Maybe I’ll be an architect, too, sounds fun.” “Ok...” she says sounding confused but she really has gotten me thinking now. “Or I could be cop, it would be cool to freak people out by sounding my siren. Can you picture me taking down some thieves?” “I can picture you running away from thieves.” “Hilarious”, I say dryly. “So let me see, you’re going to college to become an architect/police officer?” she recounts. “Ever hear of moonlighting?” “Yes, but the Earth has only one moon”, she says looking serious. “Have you even thought of what you’re going to be studying?” “Well, I have thought of how boring it would be to study…” “Are you serious?” she asks in disbelief. “Fine, if you must know”, I reveal. “I have no idea what I’ll be doing there.” “How did you even get into college?” “I applied, they said I had to do a couple of extra things to get in. I did them.” “Just like that?” “Just like that.” I repeat her words. “Look, it’s not like I have to think about it all right now, there’ll be plenty of time for that.” “Don’t you have a lot of things that you’ll think about when you get there?” “So? I don’t have to worry about all that now.” “Well then, when will you worry about them?” she asks me, now she’s starting to get on my nerves. It’s one thing to tell me to start being mature but now she’s starting to judge me in other areas. “I’ve got it worked out”. “You clearly haven’t.” “Fine, then I’ll work it out”, I tell her shortly. “You better do it fast.” “Can we stop talking about this?” “I’m just trying to help you. If you don’t think about these soon then you’ll end up getting left behind.” “Why are you being all wise and mature anyway? We’re 19, we don’t have to worry about this.” “Sure you’re 19 right now but then the years go by and you’ll regret not doing things you could’ve done”. She will not quit, will she? Such a haughty person. “Maybe it’ll be you who would stop and think that you didn’t enjoy life when you could”, I fight back. “Why are you even reading into this anyway?” “Because you can’t expect to breeze through life”, she sounds irritated too. “Well, you don’t have to be mind-numbingly stiff about everything either, you don’t have to over analyze everything. A plane ride could just be a plane ride and not a flight of death.” “So, are you saying I overthink?” she sounds really flustered now. “Yes, very much so”. “Fine, then let me overthink by myself now”. “Be my guest, I was just trying to divert your mind away from the flight. I was being nice”. “You don’t have to be nice.” “Ok, I won’t”. I finish. God, that was frustrating, how did we end up fighting? She really needs to pipe down. I felt annoyed by her cynicism the whole time but overlooked them, the repeated casual jabs didn’t fool me. I don’t feel like sitting here anymore. I get up. It’s good to stretch my legs after sitting like that for such a long time and my head’s starting to feel light again, maybe moving away from her was the right thing to do. Here I thought he could actually be a nice guy. I was right about him the first time. He’s the kind of person that laughs and says he’ll do something tomorrow and never gets to it. Fine, maybe I haven’t really cut loose in a while but that’s just because I’ve had my mind on more pressing matters. Once I get all my studies in order I’ll think about the whole having fun part. There’s plenty of time for it. Did I just sound like him? What’s this in his bag? Looks like a Walkman. That jerk! He could have easily used the Walkman and given me the book to read. I could sneak it out and hide it under my coat. He’ll spend the whole flight looking for it and I could sit here silently enjoying the music. Should I really do it? You know what, I will, he says I think too much, well, this one’s an impulse. I quickly hide it under my coat and start it up. Hmm, not bad, at least he has good taste in music. I listen to the songs for a little bit when he returns. I look away, he reaches in his bag and gropes around, stops with a strange look on his face, no doubt retracing his steps to figure out where he left it. This is actually a lot of fun. Normally I would have thought it over and decided otherwise but I’m glad I didn’t. He looks so funny in his effort to recall while I stifle a small laugh, he turns towards me, I look away immediately but feel a tap on my shoulder. “Hard on hearing, are you?” he asks. “I’m sorry?” I reply innocently. “Having fun?” he asks slyly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about”. “Fine, for your benefit I will ask you again”, he says, I feel a sense foreboding, “Some people would call that stealing?” “I don’t know what you’re talking about”. “You know, if that architect thing doesn’t work out you could always take up acting, although you probably wouldn’t be too good at it”. “What do you mean?” “So we’re dragging this out, are we?” “I really have no clue what you’re saying”. “Very well, what is this?” he asks me, showing his empty bag. “A bag?” I reply. “Good, so you can also tell me what’s inside of it then?” “It’s empty”. “Why do you think that is?” “Maybe it’s because you didn’t put anything in it”. I tell him, he’s definitely onto me but I’m going to keep on denying, it’s not like he can force me to show him what’s under my coat. “I have a separate theory of my own”, he says. “I think someone wanted payback and took something that didn’t belong to them.” “What is it that you’re suggesting?” I feign a look of aghast. “I think you know”. “Are you implying I took your Walkman?” “Maybe all that over thinking’s unlocking some sort of mind reading powers in you”. “What?” I look back. Honestly, the things he says. “I never told you I had a Walkman in there, how did you know?” he asks me with a look of innocence although it doesn’t mask the sound of triumph in his voice. “Umm, I just… knew that you were the kind of guy who would have a Walkman and it’s natural to assume that you lost it.” “I don’t think that guy at the back assumed that he saw you take it from my bag”, he says. “What? Did he tell you?” “He told me he thought we were a nice couple who share each other’s things. So honey, would you mind returning my Walkman to me?” “I didn’t steal it, I just thought I could borrow it for some time and return it”. I drop my pretense. “When you don’t ask the owner of an item it, it’s called stealing”, he says, “Guess your teacher didn’t teach you that or were you absent that day?” “Ok, here”, I dump the Walkman on his lap, “Happy now? Or do you want to patronize me a bit longer?” “Hey, you were the one who did the stealing in the first place”, he says raising his hands airily, “I’m just getting my money’s worth”. “Go ahead but don’t expect me to say anything”, she says furiously. “Well, what’s the fun in that?” I ask her mockingly. “If you wanted my attention you could have just asked for it”. “Oh please, don’t flatter yourself”. “No, madam, it is you who did just that”. “Let’s just not talk for the rest of the flight”. “Ok, it’s your decision”, I tell her, “but don’t go back on it”. “I don’t plan to”. She replies. Well I do, even though I haven’t understood her up until now there is no doubt she can’t sit through like this the whole time plus I’m sure she does want my attention, just as much as I want hers. I’ll mess with her a little more but this time let’s make it tasteful. I call the flight attendant. “Can I have a glass of water and some peanuts please?” she looks over at the girl enquiringly but I continue, “And she’ll have a personality and some sense of humor… that’s all”. I glance at my side and see her reaction, surprisingly, she looks dejected. Did she feel hurt? It sounded funny in my head. Or was it too mean? “This is what’s waiting for me, isn’t it?” she says, what does she mean by that? “I’m going to go off to college, not understand anyone and make them hate me like you do”. “Err, sorry?” I ask her which is the only thing I can say to that. “No, I’m sorry, you think I’m a horrible person.” Wow, this just got intense, I wasn’t thinking like that at all. “That’s not …” I start but she continues to talk. “It’s ok, you don’t have to be nice,” she says. Now I just feel bad, sure she was annoying but I didn’t think of her as a bad person. “No, no, I was just joking around”, I tell her truthfully. “You don’t have to…” she begins again but this time I cut her off. “I’m not just saying this, I really was just joking, I’m an idiot like that. You won’t believe how many times I’ve ticked people off with my shenanigans. If anything, it was my fault. I’ve been told I get mean sometimes”, I keep going, why am I not shutting up? “Yeah, I’m going to work on that when I get to college, so in a way you were right”. “Thank you for saying that”. She says but I think I see her tearing up now. I should have just kept my mouth shut from the start. I have no idea what do with crying women, they go right up there with my fear of heights. “Don’t cry, it’s my fault”, I start slapping myself, will it make her feel better? I must look like an idiot. “I want to thank you for something else as well”, she says. Now what? “Err… for what?” I ask her gingerly. “For being so easy”, she says and her face lights up with laughter. “Oh, so you were playing me the entire time, weren’t you?” I feel relief flooding over me. “I know I’ve been giving you advice and here’s one more, never give in to your future girlfriend or wife if she cries like I just did. This is our trump card”. She instructs me. “I’m just glad you’re not crying anymore”, I admit and actually start laughing along with her, I concede, that was a pretty good act she had going. “But I do want to apologize though. I shouldn’t have judged you like that. I tend do that, I’ll try to tone it down.” “Nah, you were right, at least a little bit. I should start to take responsibility”. “Still, I shouldn’t have meddled in”, she says. “I have no right to tell you how to live your life”. “Meh, people have been telling me how to live, my whole life”. “Well I still say sorry”, she says. “Apology accepted and I would like to return that with an apology of my own. I’ll admit I did judge you, too.” “And I accept your apology”. “Thank you, kind madam, that’s a weight off my shoulders”, we smile at each other silently for a while. “You realize we’re being too formal now?” she asks me. “I sort of like it, maybe we should smile at each other awkwardly a little longer.” “Very well then”, she obliges and we jokingly continue. “Do you realize we’ve had two ‘deep’ moments, now?” I break the pleasant moment. “Once right at the beginning and one now, I guess we’ll need another one at the end of the flight considering we’re at the middle at the moment.” “You do have a point there”. “We’ll worry about that later then. Now onto another topic.” I say feeling remarkably lively now that we’re speaking again, “I couldn’t help but notice that you told me that I was going to get married one day.” “No, I told you not to give in to a woman IF you get married”. “That was just another way of saying what I just said”, she smiles at that. “So you think I’ll get married?” “Didn’t you think that?” “No, no, no”, I wiggle my finger at her, “Don’t try to swing the topic onto my opinion”. She keeps smiling, wider even. “Ok, fine”, she says, “I guess in your own weird way you could be seen as charming. Happy?” “Oh yeah”, I raise my hands imitating a celebration, “I knew you were thinking that”. She laughs. “Just barely charming though”, she says although I still have my hands in the air, “and I never said you were charming for me, maybe for some strange and weird girl just like you”. “Doesn’t matter who it is”, I say “Point remains that you think someone may like me, you can’t take that back”. “Ok, if it means that much to you” she says, amused. “So what sort of girl do you think I’ll marry?” “Oh, so you want to remain on that topic”, she says, “Ok, like I said a girl who’s just as weird as you”. “Care to elaborate?” “Some girl who wants a guy to sweep her off her feet”, she tells me. I like this pleasant version of her, she’s fun once she loosens up. “I actually heard that opposites attract, but your description of my future wife sounds like me.” “Just because opposites attract doesn’t mean they’re right for each other”. “Yeah, but then what would be the fun in the relationship if they’re both the same? I’d like a challenge in mine.” “Funny, I thought you were the kind of person who would like to live in peace”. “Eh, I’d just get bored of peace”. I confess. “What about you? What’s your ideal relationship?” “I don’t think I’m made for relationships”, she says. “I don’t doubt that notion…Just joking”. I say further. “Go on”. “That’s just about it”. “Really? So you want to be an independent working woman in life?” “I wouldn’t say that, it’s just that I don’t see myself settling in a relationship anytime soon”. “Oh, so you want to be one of those party girls?” “Definitely not”. “Or has this been your subliminal way of telling me you’re interested?” “You wish.” “Alright then”, I wink at her. “In any case it wouldn’t have worked out between us”. “What makes you say that?” She asks curiously. “Aha, so you are interested”. “It was just a general enquiry”. “Sure it was, that’s what you call reverse psychology, maybe I should be a psychiatrist.” “Please call me as soon as you get your degree so I can avoid ever running into you if I’m ever in need of any counseling”. “You may continue with those jabs but they don’t fool me, I know how you really feel”. “Really? Then what am I thinking of right now?” she asks. “You’re thinking of how lucky you are to be sitting next to me”. “Quite the opposite actually”, she says. I give her a fake wide smile which she returns. “Keep talking like that and you’ll have a hard time finding a boyfriend ever”. “It won’t matter much anyway”. “Is that so?” I ask her. “So all your boyfriends up until now didn’t matter much then?” “Think whatever you want to”. “I’d rather know”. “I don’t really like to talk about the past”. “You didn’t mind telling me about getting your teacher a cactus back in kindergarten”. “It was middle school”, she corrects me. “Middle school”, I repeat, “So what now?” “There are certain things I just don’t like to discuss”. “Come on, it’s not like I’m going to judge you.” “Why don’t you tell me about yours first and I’ll decide if it’s good enough for me to tell you mine”. She suggests but I’m curious now. Maybe there’s a good story behind it and she wants me to beg for more. “No dice, ladies first”. “My offer’s decent, give me something good about your love life and I’ll tell you mine”. “Fine, I’ll go first. What is it that you want to know about, as you put it, love life?” “Ok, tell me about your first girlfriend?” “Well, I liked a girl when I started high school, pined over her and got rejected when I finally told her.” “Another joke?” she asks me, but then she sees my expression and understands. “You’re serious? You liked a person for so long? I figured you were the kind of guy who would’ve dumped a bunch of girls without taking them seriously”. “I appreciate the sentiment”, I say sarcastically. When she looks apologetic I speak first, “No, it’s fine. I’m actually glad you think that because I’m trying to go for that image now”. “Why?” “Because girls always like the bad boys, I’m not saying I was a nerd or anything, I was one of those guys who were just there.” “So let me guess, that’s what you were trying to go for with me when we met?” she asks. I make an obvious expression. “Guilty.” “Let me tell you, bad boys do attract girls but it’s the good ones we settle with”. “Yah, but I’m not looking to be anyone’s ‘settle’ option”. “Don’t be one of those guys, I hate them.” She says passionately. “I’m sure the majority would disagree.” “Be more than that.” Now she sounds as if she’s imploring me. “These are my younger years, there’ll be time to be ‘more than that’ later”, I say, before she can retort I ask her, “Why does it bother you anyway? It’s not like I’m going to hit on you with my bad boy attitude”. She goes quiet. “Ooh”. I understand. “Is it because you were trapped by a bad boy too? Are you speaking from experience?” “I was just saying that because I didn’t want you to hurt anyone. But that’s not my business”, she says. “I think I may be onto something here”, I continue, “Spill the beans, lady”. “Let’s switch to a new topic now”, she says, there seems to be finality in her tone and I think I’ll drop it. I don’t want to get into another argument with her. I’d like the remainder of this trip to go without any squabbles. “Very well then, what do you want to talk about?” he asks me. Good, he’s not pursuing this matter. “But you have to come up with something.” “Tell me about your life?” I ask him. He looks taken aback. “Well that’s just straight to the point, isn’t it?” He asks with his eyebrows raised. “That’s something we haven’t really done yet”, I tell him, we’ve mainly beaten around the bush the whole time and now that we’re nearly there I’d like to know who he really is. “Exactly what part of it do you want to know about?” he asks me. “Everything, why do you want to focus on things such as relationships? Give me the whole picture”. “Ok then”, he says, then clears his throat. “To begin, I’m the second of three boys. I’m two years younger than the first and three years older than the last. My dad is an accountant or financial analyst as he likes to call it but I don’t see the difference, they’re both terms for a boring job. My mom’s what you might call a soccer mom and makes the best food in the world, I know it’s a cliché but in my case it’s completely true. I grew up with two best friends after which they moved away, so I ended up being the guy everyone was good friends with, not best friends. That’s why I’m hoping I can find a few good buddies with whom I can really enjoy my adult life. I was a pretty good student and got the grades I needed. My little brother’s a big dope who just likes to read books and not hang out with me, he’s going to miss me more than I’ll miss him I’m sure. I actually don’t enjoy reading, I prefer to watch the movies based on the books. As you know, I have a fear of heights, my older brother took me up on this hill once although he doesn’t climb anymore. I like to focus on the positive things, my family, my health and all. Whew, that was long. I didn’t realize I could go on like that”. He stops, slightly out of breath. I appreciate him being here now. I didn’t like him at first but it means a lot to me how he’s opened up. Until now he was a stranger, but all of a sudden I feel like he’s starting to become real to me. It’s nice to hear where he comes from, it’s as if I can finally shape him in my head, like I’m creating a character for a novel or something. He’s given me an honest and straight answer for everything I’ve asked him which is more than what I can say for myself. “I think it’s your turn now”, he says, drinking some water. “Unless you’d like to know something else, in which case I’ll need some more water and a heart monitor possibly”. “I have to admit, you’re good when you get going”, I tell him. “Although it sounded as if you’ve rehearsed it from before”. “I’m always alert for the ‘tell me about your life’ question”. He says “You don’t go to a new city and not have one ready”. “I’m thinking I should’ve prepared one too”. “I’ll help you, then, the best way is to just let it flow. I ask you a question and you don’t think. Just speak.” “So the no thinking technique comes into play again”. “Hey, if it works, it works”. “Ok then, shoot”. “I’ll give you an easy one, the same question you asked me but don’t hold anything back”. He says and there is a sincere look in his eye which makes me want to not disappoint him. “Alright then, I’m the youngest of four children, I have one brother and two sisters. My mom is a store supervisor, my father died when I was only 3 years old. We had a hard few years after that, my mom didn’t have any work experience so she got a job as a counter person at a grocery store. My other siblings also took up similar jobs and that’s how we lived by. Fortunately, my mom was promoted and got a supervisor job. My mom and my siblings always wanted me to stay away from the hard jobs they had and collected money to pay for my college. I’ve always tried to stay economical and I’ve never made any decision in haste so I always think through something before I do it. I’ve always focused on my future and decided I would become an architect. Right now I plan to go through these years of college and achieve my goal. I plan on working hard and repaying the money that my family’s worked hard for.” I didn’t really go into detail, but I did tell him the most important part about me and that was my family. I hope he sees now why I’m who I am. From the things he said about himself it seems as if we’ve both had very different lives. I look at him and notice he has an odd expression on his face, its peculiar to see him carrying this appearance, I’m sure he’s trying to find the right words to say. “Interesting”, he finally says. “How we’ve both had such different lives but headed to the same place”. That actually is interesting. “Yeah, now that you mention it”. “Uh-huh, I mean, funny how I suppose you could say we took two different paths but the destination turned out to be only one”, he says “We could’ve started out together but it feels like we just would have ended up here anyway. I like when things like this happen, makes me think about fate”. “You know, you’ve surprised me a few times during this trip”. “How so?” he asks me. “Most of the time you’ve been one dimensional but occasionally you talk about things like fate which I would associate with a person who sits down and thinks about stuff”. “It’s not like I never think, I just choose to think about some things and not about others”, he explains “In any case, I think we all have more than one side to us.” “Even me?” I ask him, “Didn’t you think I was mind numbingly stiff?” “Good memory”, he says with a smile, “but let’s not revisit that particular conversation, I was just annoyed then, I’m sure even you have a spontaneous side to you”. “Not really”, I tell him truthfully. “Not such a good memory, then”, he says. “Why do you say that?” “Did you forget stealing my Walkman or are you still denying from doing so?” he asks me triumphantly, that’s right! I did do something on a whim. That rush of excitement I felt then comes back slightly now, I look at him. He’s still smiling. He’s been a real pain at times so far but he’s also made me think more about myself than I would’ve thought and I’ve barely known him for a few hours. What is it about him? I had no problem speaking to him. Whatever it maybe I feel as if I’ve been sort of liberated of extra the thoughts in my head which had been there for so long. It’s as if I owe him something now. “Please fasten your seatbelt, we will be arriving shortly”, I hear the announcement. Time to go through it again. Slowly, I close my eyes and my breathing starts to rise. I look to my left, after all he has been great at distracting me. He seems to silently accept my request. “You know putting your force on something is a good stress reliever”, he suggests, “how about gritting your teeth?” I comply, it gives me a headache. “Any other ideas?” I ask him, opening my eyes. “Not working, huh?” he sympathizes with me. “How about kicking the seat in front of you?” I don’t even think and do it. “Hey!” the person ahead of me turns around angrily, “What’re you doing?” “Take it easy”, the boy says, “you can see she’s scared, can’t you?” “Shouldn’t have boarded a flight if she can’t handle it”, the man says. “Yeah ok, she’ll remember that next time”, the boy says coolly, the angry man turns away. “I didn’t think you would actually do that, I was just joking. “ I simply hum in response. “Boy, you really will do anything I say won’t you?” he says, “let me think of what I can make you do next”. “You’re not helping”, I say earnestly. “Ok then, I’ll take a rain check on that, I have another idea. How about you squeeze my hand?” “This is so not the right time to hit on me”, I tell him angrily. “No, I’m serious”, he laughs, “That could actually help you”. I can’t think of any alternatives, so I take his hand. “Wow, your hand’s really cold”. He says, “I know it’s tempting to simply hold my hand but the point was for you to squeeze it to release the tension”. I do just that, he returns the pressure and I double mine. This is helping, I can exert the frustration I’m feeling right now. “Told you it would help. Your breathing’s becoming normal, too.” I concentrate on pressing down on his hand. “Hmmm, you have a pretty firm grip, impressive. Ok, that’s actually a little harder than I thought, just a little lighter would be better. Ok, now you’re definitely pressing too tight. If you don’t mind could you…ouch”. I feel his hand jerk away from mine and open my eyes. “What was that about?” I ask him. “I didn’t want my hand broken”. He replies. “Sorry, but that’s how I feel inside.” “Well you can make something else feel that way”, he says, rubbing is hand. “Just try to not think about it”. I close my eyes yet again. “How about you imagine beating someone up? He suggests. “Come again?” “It helps me when I get irritated, there was this one guy I hated at school, so whenever I wanted to feel lighter I just imagined myself beating him up”. “And that’s worked for you?” “Question is, has that ever not worked for me?” “Fine, I’ll try that”. “Ok, so think about someone who you think deserves a nice walloping”. A moment’s pause and he speaks again. “And try not to imagine me.” I smile at that addition. Who do I hate? I never really had time to hate anyone, although there was this one girl who used to tease me about my father being dead. “Come on, let it out on that person”. He tells me, “Who are you thinking of, anyway?” “There was this one girl who picked on me for not having a dad”. “How dare she? Give it to her then!” I imagine it. That girl had the ugliest ponytails, I always wanted to pull on them. That’s what I think about. “Oh yeah, that’s what I’m talking about”, I hear his voice, sounding enthusiastic. I didn’t even realize I was moving my hands. I stop at this comprehension. “Why’d you stop?” he asks me. I open my eyes once more. “It’s alright, I think I’m fine now”. “Are you sure?” he asks me, “Because I can hold her back while you punch her in the gut”. “I’m sure I can handle it”. The plane continues to descend and I feel it landing on the ground with a thud. He seems nonchalant by my side although I get the hint he’s watchful for any more panic attacks. What started out as the worst trip may have been my best yet. The seatbelts sign switches off and people start getting up to collect their things and leave. We rush ahead and are one of the first ones out although it took some pushing to do so. “Did you notice the older ones sitting around?” he asks me, “Why would you want to do that?” “Lots of free time I suppose”, I reply. The air out here feels amazing. The only thing keeping me up was making sure she didn’t start freaking out at the end but she did pretty good. I also feel proud of myself, I’d like to think I played a part in keeping her calm. My head feels so clear now that I feel a smile on face, I love the early morning smell in the air. We walk towards baggage claim, she doesn’t look like she’s new to this. “If you spot a red and black one, it’s mine”, I tell her, the more eyes watching, the easier it’ll be. “Will do”, she says, not looking away. “How many for you?” I ask her to pass the time. “Three.” “Isn’t that a lot for one person?” I ask her sheepishly, voicing my thoughts. She grins. “They’re not all for me”. “Got something for your teachers at college already?” “Very funny, they’re for my aunt and her daughter”. “Oh? You’re staying with relatives?” I ask her. That didn’t come up during the flight. “Didn’t I tell you?” “I’m starting to think we didn’t tell each other quite a lot of things”. Something else has just come to mind, it’s funny how we haven’t thought of that till now. “At least we had our three deep conversations, that’s what you wanted, right?” “It means a lot that you remembered”, I chuckle. “Is that your bag?” she points at the conveyor belts. “We have a winner”, I say. I pick up my case. “So, time to go off?” she asks. I don’t feel like leaving just like that. “Can’t leave you here carrying three bags by yourself.” “Oh, so chivalry isn’t dead after all”. “You know it.” “Ah, the first words you said to me… there they are”, she points forward. I lift them up and place them on the trolley. “You don’t miss, do you?” I ask her, “This should be your superpower, spotting luggage at airports”. “I’ll do that only if I get paid, Walk me out?” she asks. It’ll be a pity once we leave, I don’t expect we’ll be seeing each other another time, I feel at ease with her, I’m not sure I’ll find someone I can be like this with at college. We reach outside the doors of the airport, the rush of cold wind greeting us again, I close my eyes at its welcome. She notices it. “Like the feeling?” “Yup, I feel wide awake now”. I tell her. “Really? I just feel like going to sleep”. “I’m sure I’ll feel the same once I get inside somewhere too”. “Where are you going now?” she asks. “Wherever the wind takes me, I guess, I’ll check in at a hotel near somewhere then go over to the college tomorrow. What about you?” “Just waiting for my aunt to show up”. She replies. We stand around silently for a while, I ask her another question. “How would you feel if one day you came home from college and found me there?” “I think my aunt will call the police before I can recognize you”. “No seriously, aside from poking fun at each other”, I ask her, maybe a bit too earnestly. We’re going to be saying goodbye soon anyway, might as well ask her whatever I want to. “I am serious, I’ll probably be at college most of the time”. “Fine, then maybe in the future when you’re living alone and you return home from work or something and you happen to find me there, what would you do?” “I don’t know, I haven’t thought about it”. “So, back to thinking, huh?” “Yes, time to do just that. I’m guessing you didn’t think before asking me that”. “Correct again, this guy here continues to not think”. I say, looks like we’re returning to reality. “It’s not bad you know”, I tell him, I appreciate it on some level now. “It’s actually great in some cases”. “Thank you for that”, he says politely. “Well, I don’t know what I would say or do but consider yourself welcome”. “What are you saying?” “I, hereby give you my express permission to enter my house uninvited, but it better be a good reason.” “I’ll make sure to drop by only if I have a good reason to”. “Then it’s a deal”, I offer him my hand, he takes it and lingers for a while. I look behind him, my aunt’s here. “So, do you take this long to shake everyone’s hand or am I a special case?” “Bit of both, but I have one last question.” “Which is?” “What’s your name?” I almost laugh out loud at that absurd question but it comes to my realization almost immediately, I never even found out his name, here we were talking about our life and so much more but didn’t think to bother. “That’s actually the one thing I’ve been thinking of.” He says. I smile in embarrassment. “Emily!” I hear my aunt calling. He looks back and turns round with a smirk. “So, I take it your name is Emily”. I nod in amusement. “Hello, Emily, My name is Nick”, he says. “Nice to meet you, Nick, and may I say the name suits you.” “Thank you, well, Emily it was a pleasure to meet you,” says Nick. “It was mine, if you’ll believe it”, I say, “By the way, I’ll need that hand back.” “Sorry about that”. He lets go. We both look at each other again, Nick nods at me in goodbye and walks away, I look back at him, he calls a cab and looks back, too. I wave goodbye and greet my aunt. I turn around one last time before getting in the car but he’s left by now. I take a seat and leave with my aunt. Chapter Two - 2005 – His Here I am. I can’t believe it’s been four years! Time has no idea how to stop. Would’ve felt nice if I’d come with a friend. Then again, this whole arrangement only became final yesterday. Yes, I am feeling slightly scared but it’s a good kind of scared. Like going to Mikey’s graduation or doing the whole bar scene. This part of me has never gone away and I’m proud of it. My plane leaves after two hours. If only she’d come along with me. Why am I even thinking of her? We’ll meet soon enough, I’m sure. I load up on sweets and head over the book store. One of the books catches my eye. A Harry Potter book. I was forced to go along for this book’s launch, there was such a huge line that I immediately backed out although I haven’t seen anyone as willing to fight for a book as a particular someone. My mind goes back to 2001 when I had my encounter with Emily. I’ve thought about her occasionally, sometimes more prominently than others. I’ve seen many girls by now but haven’t come across any like her. That was by far my most memorable plane ride, even though she was a hard person to get along with I couldn’t help but feel easy. Could there be another similar incidence? I hold the book in my hand and position myself like I had on the previous occasion and for a fleeting second expect her to show up. What am I doing? I shake my head and return to reality. A kid falls in front of me while running, I check on her, handing one of the toffees I bought, her face lights up happily. Children, one minute they’re about to cry and the next they forget. Her mother rushes over looking astonished. She knocks the treats away and takes the kid back. I realize what happened, it must have looked incredible creepy from her angle. The boarding announcement is heard. My thoughts go back to the last flight again, I remember how scared Emily was. It annoyed me at first but turned into a sort of obligation to distract her from it. I actually enjoyed it. I’d rather be sitting here listening to her panic attack than the guy next to me who listens to his… Walkman? Who even has those anymore? I can never remember where I kept mine, probably would’ve thrown it away by now anyway. Her Wow! I can’t believe I’m halfway across the world. Everyone thought I was burnt out from these last four years and needed a vacation. Eventually, I decided on flying off to a distant country. Hopefully I’ll have a lot of things to see once I explore the city. I’ll head for a hotel once I step out of the airport. The bus moves on with a big jolt which makes me fall back onto someone. I bend down to pick my phone I had dropped and apologize absentmindedly. “Welcome to Muscat, Oman”, the man says drowsily, dressed in long white clothing I read was called a dishdasha. I see my bag immediately, my super power to spot luggage, as someone had called it, still exists. The doors slide open and I see the welcoming parties for passengers. An unexpected flash of sunlight meets my eyes while I make my way to a taxi, making me drop my phone again. I bend down to pick it up when someone else does it for me. “Dropped it again, I hope it hasn’t broken this time”, I hear the man’s voice. I don’t see his face at first because of the sunlight still stinging in my eyes but he sounds familiar. “Thanks”, I say, still blinking. “Sure thing-“ he stops talking in midsentence which is just when my vision clears. He looks at me with a charmed and curious expression, mouth opened slightly in a small smile, hand halfway stretched holding out my phone. I feel my face break into a smile as well. I knew he sounded familiar. We both look at each other followed by a small pause, something we had the last time. “Let me start by introducing myself”, he breaks the silence and offers a handshake, “My name is Nick”. I laugh as does he. “I’m Emily”. “So I take it you don’t want your phone back?” he says, it takes me a second to get him. “Sorry, I thought you were…” I let my sentence trail and take my phone from him. “You do remember who I am, don’t you?” he asks me. “I’m not sure, I think I’ve got you confused with a boy who talks a lot and thinks he’s a charming ladies’ man.” “Wait a minute”, he says, “I’ve got you all wrong. I know for a fact the girl I’m talking about thought I was charming.” “I said you could be charming to someone else, not me.” “Oh, so you do remember me”. He says proudly making me laugh again. The taxi driver interrupts us. Nick looks at me as if asking for permission to join him. I can’t just brush him off plus I’d like to speak with him anyway. “Heading off to a hotel?” I ask Nick. “Not really”, he says which takes me by surprise. Where else would he be heading? Then again, knowing him he’s probably here for just a day and heading off somewhere else tomorrow. “So, is someone picking you?” “Yes, but he doesn’t seem to be here. Could you give me a second?” he takes his phone out. He speaks to somebody for a couple of minutes and returns. “So I take it you’re headed to a hotel?” “Yes I am”. I tell him. “So are you going to wait here?” “Change of plans.” “You didn’t change them because of me, did you?” “Of course not. You’re not that important, you know,” He says nonchalantly. “I don’t doubt that”, I say, “Want to share a cab?” “You sure I’m the right person? I could be a stranger just posing to be this friend of yours.” “After that statement I have no doubt in my mind you’re the right person”. I say, he smiles timidly. The taxi driver honks. “Sorry”, I apologize and motion Nick to enter. “Where you want to go?” the driver asks us, silence ensues, I look at Nick, expecting him to suggest a hotel but by the look on his face I guess he had the same thought. “Umm”, we both say together. “Where do you want to go?” he asks. “Where do you want to go?” I mirror him. “Let’s go to your stop first and if I like it, I’ll just check in there too.” I actually didn’t book a room at any hotel. I thought I would do that after I landed. “Wait a minute”, he says, “You don’t have a booked room anywhere, do you?” “No”, I admit sheepishly. “Wow, the thinker Emily hasn’t planned this out from before”, he says smilingly, “That’s quite an impulsive decision isn’t it?” Before I can answer him we’re interrupted by the taxi driver. “You want to go or not?” “Sorry”, Nick says, “The lady doesn’t know any places here, can you please wait for her to decide?” He winks as if to indicate me to just go with it. “No problem”, the driver says. “Taken care of”, Nick says proudly. “At the expense of making me look dumb”, I point out. “Okay, smart guy, you tell him where to go”. “So you have no idea about any hotels here?” “I do, but the ones I know about will be expensive I’m sure.” I tell him. “We could go around the city looking for a good one.” “That would be a good idea but our stuff’s in the trunk so we’ll need to think about that.” “This guy could stay with us”, Nick says. I think about the possible cab fare for the day plus the hotel fees I would have to pay, he looks as if he’s noticed my concerned expression. “Don’t worry about the money”, he says, “I’ve got it covered.” “No, it’s okay”, I say, feeling embarrassed. I hope he doesn’t think I’m being cheap here. “It’s not a problem”, he says waving his hand, “I was the one who joined you so it’s only fair I pay, sorry if you’re sitting here with me even though you don’t want to.” “There’s nothing like that”, I tell him. “Yeah that’s not possible”, he says, “Why wouldn’t you want to spend time with me?” “Nice to see you haven’t changed much”, I say. The driver clears his throat. “So, good sir, we’ll be honest with you”, Nick says, “We don’t know the names of any hotels here, can you please take us to one?” “Do you want to go to near one or good one?” he asks us. Nick looks at me questioningly. “I guess we’ll check out a near one”, I tell the driver, “We’ll see if it’s any good”, I tell Nick. The car finally moves away from the airport. “You don’t think he’ll scam us for more money, do you?” asks Nick, “I mean, we don’t even know how much a normal cab fare is here.” “If he scams us then I’ll reimburse you the extra amount”. “This gives me a great idea how we could scam tourists when we get back home”, he jokes. “Nice to see you’re good at quick thinking, committing fraud aside”, I say. Our car leaves the airport and we’re in the streets of the city. A little while ahead we see a sign which reads ‘Welcome to Muscat’. “So we’re officially here”, says Nick. “Looks that way”, I say and look out the window. I glance over at Nick and see him peeking at me too. We haven’t seen each other in four years, there must be a lot of things that would have happened with him by now. “I hope this isn’t all of it”. I say. “Imagine if it is”, he says, sounding glad I spoke, “That would be a funny story to tell, you travelled all the way over here just to check out an empty field without grass on it.” “I’m sure I’ll be crying but they won’t be tears of joy that’s for sure”, I reply. “Give it time and you’ll see the humor in it eventually.” “And I’m sure it’ll take a lot of time to make the money, I spent on this trip, back”. “Oh how I’ve missed that elementary school humor of yours”, he says. A moment of recollection later I understand where that joke came from. “It was middle school”, I correct him. “They both felt like the same to me.” “Failed both, did you?” “Oh, piling it on more, are we?” “I could if you want me to”. “I think I’m fine for now”, he says. Should I just go straight to the point and ask him what he’s been up to these past few years? “This road goes on forever”, he says and leans forward to speak to the cab driver, “How long till we get to the city?” “We’re in the city now, my friend”, the man replies. “No, the actual city”, says Nick. “I don’t understand you”, he says dumbfounded. Nick rolls his eyes and falls back in his seat. “Never mind”, he says. “You are in Muscat”, the driver says. I giggle while Nick looks exasperated. “It’s ok”, he says, “No problem, I understand. So, did you take a break from studies to visit or are you going to study here as well?” “I’m not that big of a nerd.” “One more thing I know about you now”, he says, “I couldn’t help but feel we didn’t tell as much as we could’ve when first we met”. “I thought we talked a lot”. “We talked but we didn’t share”, he says. “I guess”. “Come on, we didn’t know each other’s names the whole time.” “Yeah, what was that all about it?” “I’m not sure but I always wanted to ask you why you never asked me.” “It never crossed my mind”, I say truthfully, “What about you?” “Same here”, he says, “Although I was the one who popped the question eventually.” “You make it sound like you proposed to me”. “Felt like it to tell you the truth”. “Why?” I ask. “I don’t know”, he shrugs. “I guess because we spent hours talking and by the end of it I felt like asking your name would kind of, take it to the next level. Didn’t you think of it like that?” “Honestly… I did”. I reveal, “When you told me about your family I felt like you finally were a real person.” “So I was like a robot before?” he asks. “No not like that but you were being kind of fake at first, you know, the whole ladies’ man demeanor of yours.” “Hey, I told you I was working on my new personality”, he says defensively, “Remember I told you I wanted to change into a player, well, that was me giving it a test run”. “I guess you needed some polishing on it”, I say, “Whatever it was, I liked the real you like I told you then”. “You never did actually”, he says and I notice he looks flattered. “Well, I did”, it’s true. He was nice to talk to once he dropped the weird creepy guy angle. “So are we having a moment or something here now?” he asks me still looking pleased. “Yeah, you wish”, I say. He smiles. I wonder though if he did go through with the playboy act like he planned to. “So, was your test run successful?” “Oh that”, he says with a grin, “You wouldn’t believe I-“ But the rest of his worlds are drowned out as I see something that I wanted to. Mountains. In the center of the city. We ascend onto a road which is carved inside one of these. It’s a beautiful sight, I’ve never seen so many of them, having been among tall buildings devoid of nature, in my life. “Magnificent, aren’t they?” I ask Nick, still staring out. He doesn’t reply. I turn to see him looking slightly nauseous returning my comment with a fake smile. “What’s wrong?” “It’s nothing”, he says, his voice weighed down as if trying to control himself from puking. “As if, your face has the same hint of teal as the mountain we just passed”. I say. “So your fear of heights is kicking in?” He nods and closes his eyes tightly shut. “Don’t mind me”, he says, “Just look out the window and enjoy the view. I’ll just wait till we arrive.” “No, it’s alright”, I say, after all, he did the same when I had my phobia of airplanes. “What is wrong with your friend?” the taxi driver asks. “He has a fear of heights”, I tell him but the driver looks like he didn’t catch me. “He’s scared.” “Ah, yes we have lot of people like him”, he says, “If he vomit then he have to pay.” I smile politely at his comment. “Heard him?” I ask Nick, “Can’t puke now”. “I never puke”, says Nick, “I haven’t puked in four years.” “Last time you were on a high spot?” “No”, he says, “But it’s a funny story.” “I’m sure it was”, I say, “Wait a minute, we met four years ago, did you puke then?” “No I didn’t”, he says, “Although I almost did a few times”. He jokes. “Very funny.” “Don’t worry, Emily. You were a lot of things but not revolting.” “You have such a way with words”, I say sarcastically. “I do, don’t I?” he says, “By the way, you’re not making faces at me while I’ve got my eyes covered, have you?” “Don’t worry Nick, I’m not as silly as you”, I assure him. We stop at a signal, the driver turns around, winks at me while doing a shushing gesture, then sticks his tongue out at Nick and turns back. I laugh at this unexpected event, Nick opens his eyes. “You were making faces at me, weren’t you?” “I can honestly tell you I wasn’t”, I continue to laugh. “I can never tell with you.” “Tell what?” “Never mind”, he says and leans forward to speak with the driver. “She was making funny faces right?” “I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’m just driving”, the man says. I giggle again. “You guys are up to something”, Nick shifts back in his seat, ‘“Let’s laugh at the phobic kid.’” “We were just distracting you”, I say, “It’s working isn’t it?” “You call that distracting?” says Nick. “Come on, what I did for you was grade A level”. “I wasn’t that bad.” “You’re kidding right?” he asks me, astonished, “I’ll show you how you were”. He closes his eyes and imitates me. He rocks around a bit too while I look at him un-amused. “Ok, you made your point”, I say, “I didn’t really ask for the demonstration”. “Are you alright?” the taxi driver asks, “Do you want to go to hospital?” Nick looks sheepish at that comment although I see the humor in it. “Almost to the hotel”, the driver says. I look outside and see water. It’s not the open sea, it’s a harbor. There must be around fifteen boats. The largest one, white with the insignia of a dagger on it, I remember looking at its picture on the internet. This is the corniche area, one of the most alluring traveler spots in Muscat. “You know, that ship was a gift from Queen Elizabeth”, I tell Nick. “It’s good”, he says, “I’d like to get out of this car and see it up close”. “How far till the hotel?” I ask the driver. “We’re here”, he replies and slows down the car. “So is this the nearest hotel or the nicest one?” Nick asks the taxi driver. “I think maybe both”, he replies, “I bring because most of you people like to go to Muttrah Souk.” “What’s a souk?” Nick asks me questioningly. “It’s a traditional shopping area”, I tell him, I read about it on the net, “Most tourists come here, it’s a cultural spot where you can buy Omani souvenirs.” “You sound like a travel brochure”, Nick says, I smile. “You get out now?” the driver asks us. “Ah, it’s good to be out and up”, he says stretching, I feel the same way. “So should we check it out?” We head towards the hotel. We enter and immediately a horrible smell reaches us. We head to the reception where an Indian man greets us. “Hello and welcome to the Paradise Inn”, he says, “How may I help you?” “Yes, we’d like to ask what the rates are here”. I ask the man. “We can show you the rooms before you check in.” “What do you say?” Nick asks turning to me. “Do you want to?” I ask him. “I will if you want to”, he says. “We don’t have to if you don’t want to.” “Emily, it’s not like we’re picking curtains or anything”, he says. “Ok then let’s just check it out.” The stench keeps getting worse. I look at Nick who wrinkles his nose, I see a trace of a smile on him. We stop on the fourth floor, the man leads us forward. “What’s that smell, can you tell us?” I hear Nick ask him. “Oh, that’s someone cooking food”. The guy replies nonchalantly with a wave of his hand, he unlocks one of the rooms. There’s nothing in here but a broken couch. The bed doesn’t even have a mattress, just a really long sheet. “You’ll be with a view”, the man says. He moves a barely noticeable curtain to reveal a very small hole-in-the-wall. I deliberately avoid Nick’s eyes, looking at his expression would probably make me laugh. I’m having a hard time keeping a straight face. “I didn’t show you the bathroom.” “Oh you don’t have to”, says Nick, his voice cracking. He looks inside. “Was someone cooking the food in here?” I hear his voice, barely keeping it still, “Oh look, there’s the same view here as well”. Neither of us can hold it anymore and we burst laughing, all the way back to the taxi. “Our driver needs to understand the difference between nice and near because that certainly wasn’t both.” I chortle. “That stench may have given me temporary loss of memory”, says Nick. Minutes later we hear a honk, it’s our taxi driver. “So did you like it?” he asks us looking proud on his choice. “I think we’ll have to keep looking”, I tell him. “Doesn’t the smell bother you?” “That’s just someone cooking food”, he says offhandedly. Nick and I look at each other and break into fits of laughter again. “I think we’ll pass on this one”, says Nick wiping his eyes. “We go look for more hotel or you want to see souk?” “What do you think?” I ask Nick. “I’m fine, if you want to check it out, then lets”. He says. “Unless you’re tired.” “No, I’m fine, too”, I say, I don’t feel like sleeping now, the laughing probably woke me up. “Let’s go, then.” “We don’t have to go in the taxi”, I say, noticing that the souk is only a couple minutes’ walk away. “You don’t have to follow us”, I tell the driver. “Ok I stay here then?” he asks. I nod and we continue moving. “Poor guy, I think you hurt his feelings”, Nick jokes. “At least we have a loyal one with us”. “Maybe he thinks we’ll bolt on him without paying.” says Nick. “I would never do that.” “Would be convenient.” “You’re not honestly suggesting that, are you?” I ask him. “If you say yes then I am”, he says, “Just kidding”, he adds at my look of disapproval. “Well, I like him”. I say, “He was making faces at you when you had your eyes covered”. “I knew you guys were up to something”. “It was funny though”. “I’m sure you thought it was hilarious”. We arrive at a sort of archway which makes for a gate. Words in Arabic are inscribed on it. Nick slaps his forehead suddenly and grapples for the bag on his back, taking out a camcorder. “I forgot I brought this along”, he says and turns the flap open. “I brought my camera”, I reply and take it out of my pocket. “I was going to use it when I went sightseeing.” “You don’t think this qualifies as one?” “It’s a bazaar”, I say, “Nothing big about it”. “Fine, suit yourself but I’m turning mine on”. He says and switches it towards me. “Say hi, Emily”. I look awkwardly at the camera, and wave. “Hi, future Nick”, I say, “Don’t edit this video into something gross.” “This is for my family”, he says embarrassedly and turns the camcorder on himself, “She’s just joking, Mom”. “Still a little mama’s boy, huh?” I giggle, remembering him telling me about his mother the first time we met. “See, mom?” Nick says in the camera, “Even she thinks you smother me. She never believes it, and yes I still am”. This talk about his mother makes me remember about mine. “Oh, I have to get something for my mom from here”, I say and start walking forward. “Hold up, I don’t want to drop this”, I hear Nick’s voice behind me. You couldn’t put in photos the atmosphere here, the hustle and bustle of interested customers. How Omani women in the traditional Burka argued with the shopkeepers for a bargain, every shop with a table outside displaying showpieces for tourists, from shirts which read ‘I was in Oman’ to cultural novelties like sheesha and fashionable daggers. The Aroma of freshly cooked traditional cuisines reaches us making me realize that I’m starving. The only way for me to show my family what I see would be by writing about it perhaps, making them relive this scene, pictures would just dim the ambience of the souk. “What do you think?” Nick asks the shopkeeper tucking the dagger to his side, it has a belt too, the shopkeeper looks ecstatic. “Very good”, he says, “You should also buy these binoculars to go with the dagger. And this sturdy stick, looks even more promising.” “How about it?” Nick asks me. He looks like a real sight to see. With a cane stuck to his right and a dagger to his left along with a compass hanging out his shirt. The binoculars drooping from one of his pockets, he’s also picked out novelty glasses which he’s wearing. “You look something, that’s for sure.” “Something good?” he asks hopefully. I shake my head leaving him disappointed. “Wait a minute”, I say and take out my camera. “This picture definitely needs to be taken”. Nick smiles at the camera and takes out the items he was wearing, the shopkeeper looks like he’d really like to stab me with the dagger and I think it’s time we get a move on. “The glasses gave me a sophisticated look.” “Sure they did”, I play along. It comes to my attention that there are four ways to follow. Two on either side and one ahead. I take a moment to think. “So, here we have Emily making the important decision of which way to go”, he narrates in his camcorder, pointed at me. He then turns it to one of the shopkeepers. “You’re on camera”, he says, the man looks happy and starts to talk up on his own shop which I had anticipated. I pull Nick away. “Is it me or have the walls closed in on us?” He asks. “Good thing I’m not claustrophobic”, I say. Nick meanwhile has something more to record now which he does so happily. “You’re really enjoying yourself, aren’t you? Not worried we might get lost?” I ask him amusedly. “Nope, I have you to help me find my way back.” “What if I get lost too?” “Well then, we’ll be two tourists lost together for the locals to scam on”, he says, “At least someone gets something good out of it.” “Four years on and still hopelessly positive?” “No, there’s hope”, he says, “I’ve had experience.” “When was that?” “A while ago.” “Really?” I ask interestedly, “Do tell.” “Aren’t we looking for something?” He’s right. The pathway stops at a dead end, I see a very tight path to the side. Nick looks game for it and we squeeze our way through. “Ok, I have to say”, Nick says, “I’m really thirsty, I’ve been since we entered here.” “Probably should’ve taken it easy with the narration.” I’m really starting to feel the hunger get to me, too. “Should we go back?” “I’ll get something to drink first”. He says and trots over to an open coffee shop which I hadn’t noticed. Indian and Pakistani food. Samosas, Chutney, sub continental sweets and other things are what they have. None of these look particularly inviting to me. Nick chugs a whole bottle of water. “How come you’re not hungry?” I ask him. “I had food at the plane”, he says, drinking more water, “What about you, why are you so hungry?” “I don’t eat on planes.” “Oh yeah, don’t want anything to go wrong while you’re having your anxiety attack, huh?” “You could say that”, I say, “I’m having a hard time deciding what to eat.” “Oh, we should try a shawarma”, Nick says excitedly. “What’s that?” I didn’t bother to check about food in this country when I looked it up on the internet back home. “It’s kind of like a sandwich but it’s wrapped in a roll, I had one before but I want to check out the local one.” “Here you go”, he says handing it to me when we get it. I take a big bite. It’s really good, maybe because I’m so hungry that anything will feel delectable but I don’t care. “How is it?” Nick asks. “Mmmm”, is all I reply. “Told you it was good”, he says victoriously. Exactly one month ago I was busy planning my career objectives, and look where I am now, never would I have thought I’d be in the Middle East, lost in a souk, eating something I’d never heard of and being here with Nick of all people. Picking Oman was an impulsive choice, fitting that I’m here with the most spontaneous person I know. My plan was to go to sleep in a hotel as soon as I arrived but now I don’t feel even the slightest bit tired. “I hope that hit the spot”, says Nick dusting off his hands after he’s finished, “Because from the looks of it we’re going to have a hard time finding our way back.” “Can I help you?” the shopkeeper asks us noticing our lost faces. “Please.” “There’s no way out of here”, he says. Well that sucks, so we’ll have to go back the way we came in. “Are you sure?” Nick asks exasperatedly. “I didn’t finish”, the man says smiling, “There’s no way out except through my shop, so you can go out the back door. I only tell the way out to the people buy something.” “Lucky us… I guess”, Nick says to me. The man leads us back to the main part of the souk. “Thank god he brought us here where there are a lot of people”, I say with relief, “He was kind of creepy.” “So I wasn’t the only one thinking that”, Nick says with a laugh. “Anyway moving on, let’s head this way now”. “Aren’t we done?” “I still haven’t gotten anything for my mom, let’s head back to the entrance and I’ll buy something along the way.” I scan the stalls and shops for something of interest thinking they might have a few extra things. Here too, I see the similar daggers, compasses and scarves that the other stalls had only in more varieties but no more remarkable. I see Nick absorbed with something new, he holds up an hourglass. “At least there’s one thing different here”, he says. “I think out of all the things we’ve seen, this is the best for your mom.” “You think so?” “Unless you want to get her a dagger”, he says. I decide to buy the hourglass. It would look good at our shelf now that I think about it. “Think of how much time we would’ve saved if we’d just entered this shop in the first place”, Nick says. “I thought you were having fun.” “It was, actually.” He says smiling boyishly. “We weren’t in there that long”, I tell him looking at my watch. It’s noon now, we spent our morning in there. I understand now why Oman’s one of the hottest countries in the world, the sun shines right in my face, makes me feel like I’m melting. Nick shields me by standing in the way, I smile gratefully at him. “Where to, now?” “Nowhere if we don’t find our trusted cabbie”, he answers looking around. The taxi driver isn’t anywhere to be seen. “You think he left us?” “He didn’t seem the type.” “Maybe he got bored from waiting, probably thought it wasn’t worth it.” “All the same, I think we should look for him”. “Seriously?” Nick enquires, surprised. “What if he returns and we’re not here? I don’t want him hating us for it.” “I’m sure you think you were his friend but probably to him we were just a fare.” Nick’s just being cynical. We go back to the Paradise Inn parking area to see if he’s there. I notice a group of men sitting at a coffee shop and head over to them. “Where’re you going?” Nick calls after me. I was right! The driver sits with them drinking tea. “Oh, you are finished?” he asks. “Yes, did you leave us?” “No, no, I sit here with friends, waiting for you.” “Told you he didn’t leave us”, I say to Nick triumphantly. “Yup, when it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be”. He says with a wink. “Where we go now?” the driver asks us. “What’s your name?” I ask realizing I don’t even know it yet. “Habib… why you want to know?” “Just like that”, I tell him. Nick makes an amused expression. “Don’t forget to invite me to your wedding”, Nick whispers to me. “It’s called being friendly.” “Are you always this friendly with strangers?” “If it’s someone I see in passing, I just think people might have something you don’t see at first, everyone has their own stories, don’t they?” “I guess they do”, he says looking impressed. “Where do we go now? Look for another hotel?” “We could if you’re tired”. He says, “If not then lets roam around more.” “So, roaming it is”, I respond. “Habib, can you take us to the palace?” “Palace? Is it around here?” Nick asks surprised. “Yeah just a little while ahead, I think.” “I should always travel with you”, Nick says, “You’ll save me a lot of money on tour guides.” “You could just do the research yourself before going to another country.” “If you were there I wouldn’t have to”, he replies with a wink. We make our way inside the Muttrah area to reach the palace. This part is called the ‘old Muscat’, not renovated to retain its timeworn appearance making it an attraction for tourists. The buildings look ancient, probably hundreds of years old. Local kids play football in small empty fields, adults lounge around in coffee shops sitting in the sunlight, a clear blue sky day giving a very picturesque look. Nick has his camcorder out again, I have to agree it would be a shame not to record all this. The palace comes into view. I see numerous other tourists here, all ranging from different races and countries. “Wow, this is the first palace I’ve ever seen”, Nick says pointing his camera at it. “It’s beautiful.” “Sure is. Hey, stand over there I’ll get a picture.” “Ok, what about you?” I ask. “You’re good looking, it’ll look better with you in it”, he says simply. “Let’s move a little closer.” “What?” “Let’s move closer to the gate.” “Oh”, I thought he was suggesting something else. Unlike Buckingham palace, tourists aren’t allowed inside here. The best we can do is see the garden place. Nick holds the gate bars and shakes them. “What’re you doing?” I shout, running over to him. “You’re not allowed in.” “What? Then what’s the point?” At that moment a palace security guard appears out of nowhere, he looks mad. “What are you doing? He demands of Nick. “I was just checking if we can go inside”, he replies looking intimidated. I don’t blame him, this guy’s huge. “It is not allowed for anyone to go inside.” “I’m sorry I didn’t know”, Nick apologizes but the guard doesn’t let up. “You don’t disrespect us.” “I wasn’t!” Nick says pleadingly. Habib talks to the guard in Arabic. The palace guard eventually listens to his argument. Nick looks frustrated but apologizes to the guard who oddly glances over at me for a second. “What was that all about?” “I told you this is a very sensitive country.” “Yeah, you weren’t kidding”, Nick says. We sit back into the taxi. “Did you notice that guy actually looked at me too?” I ask Nick. “I was too busy wondering what Omani prisons look like.” “He look at you because I tell him you’re his wife”, Habib says. “What? Why?” “Because he thought himself, so I lied.” “He thought we were married?” “Yes, I lie that you will start crying if he sent your man to jail”, Habib says, Nick laughs at this. “Omani’s respect women a lot so he agree to leave.” “Can’t believe he thought we were together”, Nick says still laughing. “I guess I have to thank you.” I wonder if I’ve been treating Nick in such a way that it would give this kind of impression to others. I’ve been normal with him, haven’t I? I don’t think I’ve done anything to suggest we’re a couple. “He say you look so sad for your man”, Habib continues, “That why he left.” “Thanks for that”. Nick also continues to laugh. I don’t see much humor in this though and just smile along. “Anyway, let’s pretend this never happened”, I say. “Don’t like the idea of being married to me?” “Let’s not go there.” “Fine, fine, where to now?” “I think we should go and check out another hotel”, I say. “Tired, then?” “Kind of”, I reply, “I feel like relaxing for a little while, we can go out after that.” “Habib, please take us to another hotel but not in this area”. “Qurm the best.” “Then take us there.” And we’re off again. I look out the window to take in the sights. We approach the mountainous areas again which makes Nick nervous once more but this time I don’t try to distract him. Maybe it’s because of things like that which made Habib, and the guard, think we were a couple. This is the first time I’ve started to think extensively since arriving. I don’t want to be thinking while I’m on vacation. I should be more like Nick who’s enjoying himself even after landing himself in a tight spot. I still have no clue what to do for the rest of the day if I even do check into a hotel. I’ll just leave that to Nick, he doesn’t need a plan and his spontaneity will get us somewhere, I’m sure. His Whew! I handled that pretty well considering I had no help whatsoever from Emily who’s been pretty quiet since we’ve left the palace grounds, I got too excited with my video recording. But what’s the point of having an enormous beautiful garden in plain view but not allow anyone to enter? Still, a funny story to tell everyone at home. I thought I’d meet him at the airport and start working on it as soon as possible but seeing Emily awakened the flighty side of me. I thought it was her when she bumped into me inside the airport bus but she moved away so quickly. It was completely surreal when I saw her. How often does it happen when you think of something and it actually chances? I haven’t seen her in 4 years and I do owe her something for being here in the first place. I want to know what she’s been up to since we last met. I guess she’s been occupied enough what with the souk and palace business. To top it all off she needs to find a hotel. I’m not sure when to tell her I don’t need one. We see a whole view of a part of the city. It’s a perfect image for an artist to paint or to snap from my camera. I turn my camcorder to record again. “This is what you’re all missing out”, I say loudly in to the camera which wakes Emily up from her daydream. “We don’t get this back at home”. Emily looks remarked with the scenery as well. “Nice to see you joining us”, I say, she looks the camcorder with which I film her. “I wasn’t sleeping.” “But you were dreaming.” “I guess I was feeling homesick”. “Are you serious?” I ask surprised. She just got here this morning! “It’s just that I never thought I’d be in a place like this alone”, she says, “I wanted to come here with my mom or siblings”. I turn my camcorder off. I don’t want to document anything depressing. “Who says you’re alone? You have me… and Habib”, I add. “You know what I mean. Wouldn’t you have liked to have come here with your brother?” “Mikey? He never would’ve considered travelling so far.” “No, the one who liked mountain climbing.” “Oh, him. No, he doesn’t climb anymore.” “What was name again? I don’t remember.” “Joe.” “He was older than you right? What does he do?” she asks me. Before I can reply, Habib interrupts. “In qurm now.” We turn around a roundabout, and that’s all we keep on doing. I don’t say anything at first thinking it’s a joke from Habib. I look at Emily who looks amused. I’ll take it, I didn’t want her to sink into a homesick depression. “Err Habib, what are you doing?” I ask. “You didn’t say where to go in Qurm”, he replies. “So, your answer is to go around the roundabout endlessly?” I ask while Emily giggles. “I’m glad at least you’re enjoying yourself.” “He reminds me of my elder brother”, she tells me. “I think I saw a sign that said Qurm Natural Park. How about we check it out?” “Don’t you want to check into a hotel first?” “I’m not in a hurry to”, she says, “Are you?” “Nope, not in a hurry either”, I tell her and I’m not going to be. Only a few seconds later, I see the park which Emily spoke of. A sign above two huge doors reads ‘Qurm Natural Park’. “Do you want to bring our trusted cabbie inside as well?” I ask. “We don’t need to”, she says. Habib leaves to join a group of men sitting around a table. “How does he know them?” I ask Emily astonished, “We just got here”. “He’s probably a very social person”, she replies, “My brother is too.” “I like how you treat a stranger like family.” “You’re one of the very few who do”, she replies. We make our way inside the doors. I see a sign which reads ‘Welcome to Rose Garden’. “I wonder why it says that”, I say looking around, “I don’t see any roses.” “There used to be roses everywhere here but after people plucked so many of them, the park owners decided to stop growing them”, Emily tells me. “Checked that on the internet too?” “Yup”, she answers. “I saw a lot of pictures of this park.” “Why, any special meaning?” “It’s supposed to be the biggest one in Muscat and the oldest.” “I know, it opened on 27 November 1995.” I say, Emily gets so surprised by this piece of information coming from me that she stops in her tracks. “How did you know that?” “Hey, you weren’t the only one who did her research.” “You actually searched about this city on the internet? So I’m not the only nerd, then?” “Actually you still are”, I end the pretense and point at a plaque which states the date of the parks opening. “Jerk!” she calls me, hitting me on the elbow. “I just wanted to see your reaction if I actually knew something you didn’t.” I laugh. “And it was worth it, you should’ve seen your face.” “Well, you didn’t really know more than me”, she says, “All’s right with the world again.” “Believe it or not I do know a few things now”. “I’m sure you do.” “I’m serious”. “I am, too. It’d be really sad if you haven’t learned something by now, so why don’t you tell me?” “Ok I will, I’ve learnt that I’m awesome.” I say. “Didn’t you say you were awesome four years ago, so you haven’t learnt anything new then?” “No, I have something to back me up on that claim now.” “What’s that?” she asks. But a little girl interrupts our conversation by running straight into us. She starts to well up but Emily picks her up soothingly. The kid slowly begins to get better. “She still looks like she could start crying”, Emily says, “Do you have any candy to give her?” “No”, I lie recalling the scene from the airport. “Some people think that’s creepy.” “Well, how else do we quiet her down?” “I think you have to worry about her parents right now”, I say pointing at the couple approaching us. The dad’s a big guy and I have a feeling if someone’s going to get beat it’ll be me. “What happened?” he demands. I decide to say nothing and look over at Emily. “She bumped into me”, she tells him calmly. “Oh, that’s okay she always bumps into something or other”, the man says coolly. “You could’ve given her anything sweet, they calm her down straight”, the wife says. “We didn’t have any”, I say quickly. Everyone’s eyes move to the spot where I’d been standing. A clump of sweets I’d gotten at the airport lie there. I may have spilled them from my pocket. “Those aren’t mine”, I add trying to recover. “She’s lovely”, Emily smiles amusedly at me and says to the couple. “I hope you don’t mind but can I take a picture of you guys together?” Emily asks them, now I’m sure the man’s going to get pissed off. “Sure”, he replies astonishing me again. Emily takes their picture and the wife offers to take her picture with the little girl. The girl doesn’t look shy now that Emily’s holding her. This is weird but funny. I take out my camcorder and record them silently. “Nice meeting you”, Emily bids them goodbye. “What was that all about?” I ask. “That girl was really cute.” “Funny, I never thought of you as a kids person.” “I used to hate kids”, she says, “Before my sister had one.” “Oh, congrats to her.” “Yeah, she had a little girl which is why I took a liking to the girl who just left.” “I’m guessing you really love your niece.” “Yah, she made me like kids”, Emily says, “And that’s a big achievement, trust me”. “So career woman Emily can’t wait to be a mom, huh?” “Definitely not”, she replies firmly. “But didn’t you just say you like kids?” “Just because I like kids now doesn’t mean I want them.” “So, you want to be the fun aunt?” “Exactly, I don’t see myself as a mom.” “You didn’t see yourself liking kids either, did you?” I ask her. “So?” “You know what I’m saying.” “You think I’ll want a kid later on?” “Bingo.” “Trust me, I won’t”. “Why so certain?” “Because”, she says confidently, “I want to be my own person, and kids won’t let me be, well, me.” “I’m not sure I follow.” “Look, I want to be on my own, at least for a few good years before I can even think of being in a relationship”, she says, “Let alone a child, you know how much responsibility goes into them?” “But they’re so cute, aren’t they?” “You know that’s not all of it”, she says, “You have a kid and your whole lifestyle changes, you have to put the child first and yourself second. Whatever you wanted will have to wait, it’s all about the kid.” “You should be a spokesperson for a birth control campaign.” “I know for a fact that what I’m saying is true”. “Why do you say that?” “Because it happened with my sister.” “She became whatever you just described?” “Exactly that.” “You sound frustrated with it”, I observe, “You just said you loved your niece.” “I do, obviously”, she says, “But she was the only one of my siblings who was kind of like me, she always wanted to be a doctor but right when she was halfway through, she marries this guy and leaves it all.” “She’s not studying anymore?” “No, not when she has a husband and a daughter.” “And it doesn’t bother her that her dreams are on hold?” “That’s the frustrating part”, says Emily, “She doesn’t mind at all, whenever I ask she just tells me I’ll understand when I meet the right person. How cliché is that?” “Well, she is right though isn’t she?” I say, “I mean, she found a guy she loved and now she has a family, sure she wanted something else but now she has something better.” “But she always wanted to be a doctor”, Emily argues, “How could she just leave her dream?” “Because her husband and daughter make her happy”, I say, “Come on Emily, I’m not the smartest guy around but even I get it.” “You never had a passion”, she says, “So you don’t get how hard it is for me to see her leave hers behind.” “There’ll be time for that later, I’m sure. There’s always a reason not to have kids but when you have one, you forget those reasons.” “So I take it you want to be a dad?” “Oh yeah, I’d love to be”, I say enthusiastically. “Go on, say how I should never have a kid.” “Why would I say that?” “Because that’s what everyone tells me. And you think I’m childish, anyway.” “As much as I would like to say it, I don’t think you’ll be a bad father.” “Sarcasm?” “No, I really mean it.” She says, “My sister’s husband, he’s kind of like you, a goofy guy and I thought he’d be an irresponsible husband but he’s actually a very great one and an even better father. So I learnt that just because you’re kind of silly doesn’t mean you can’t be great at something.” “Thank you for saying that”, I say feeling heartened. “Now don’t flaunt it over my face all the time”, she says. “So to summarize, I don’t want children and you do.” “You know, it wouldn’t be so bad if we were to ever marry, you could make the money and I could look after the kids”, I joke but Emily pauses at that suggestion. Maybe that was inappropriate of me. “You don’t plan on proposing to me in this park, do you?” “Don’t worry, you’re safe”, I laugh. “Although it is beautiful that’s for sure.” We pass by an archway which is decorated by flowers, with a view of the park’s lake. I see a bridge which passes over it just a little into the distance. The sunlight shines, a pleasant summer breeze meets us. I don’t feel the slightest bit of heat in this park unlike outside in the city. We walk over to a bench underneath a tree where Emily motions for us to sit. “Sorry if you want to walk more”, she says, “But I just felt like enjoying the setting we’re in.” “I get what you mean.” Emily closes her eyes with a smile on her face. We sit under a tree, shaded from the sunlight, in silence, the kind of silence where you’re just content with each other’s company. I enjoy it, reminds me of home. “Nick, I do have something to ask you” Emily speaks. “Everything.” “What do you mean?” I look at her. “I mean, I want to ask you everything you’ve been up to these last four years.” She clarifies. “I’ve been waiting for you to tell me but I guess that’s a hopeless cause.” “Why do you say that?” “Because we haven’t talked about anything real since we met today.” “I thought of asking you but you seemed to be more interested in Habib.” “I was speaking to him because you were so interested in your camera”, she says. “I was interested in my camera because you were speaking to him.” “Fine, forget all that, tell me now. What happened with college?” “Actually, I’m glad I ran into you today”, I start, “Because I have you to thank for it.” “Why? What did I do?” “You predicted, and you were right.” “About what?” “About pretty much everything”, I say, “I started college just like I told you I would.” “Partying?” She asks. “Yup, I went there thinking everything would work out. Remember how I told you I was young and now was the time to be immature?” “Words you argued with me to back up.” “Well, it all caught up to me, I started out by thoroughly checking the campus out. I marked out the teachers and members of the staff I could easily win over so I could get in their good books. I spent my first year clowning around, barely attended any classes. I didn’t pick any major for myself. So went away my first year. By the time I started my second year I found out I had to do something or the college would kick me out so I just decided to go for accounting classes. For my exams I copied my friend’s answers. Because of that I was able to get into my third year but then my arrogance set in and I began bunking my classes. During this time my friends and I started to crash other universities. So that’s pretty much all I did, sometimes I would just leave the college for weeks and go around the state doing my shenanigans.” “That all sounds terrible”, Emily says, astounded. “How did you finish college?” “By the time I returned back, my exams were upon me and to top it all off the teacher, who loved me, left.” “So what did you do?” “What do you think? I studied!” I tell her. “My exams were in just over a week and I studied non-stop. I barely scraped through for my final year.” “But I’m thinking you weren’t able to party through that year, were you?” “That’s right, after so much studying all I wanted was to relax”, I admit, “But then came the big bombshell, imagine eternal damnation music cueing. I got a notice, I was way behind my credit hours. I’d need to clock in pretty much straight weeks in order to graduate. So, my entire last year went away without a day outside of campus, I didn’t return home for holidays, birthdays or whatever you can think of, the world may have been ending and I still would’ve been in class. And that is how my party ended. Three years of clowning around and one final year of absolute misery but by the end of it I can at least say I am an accountant.” “Wow, that’s some story”, Emily remarks, “I feel too bad for you to even say ‘I told you so’”. “Believe me, you have the right to say that. Now comes the ‘Thank you Emily’ part.” “Why do you want to thank me?” she asks, “I just felt you were being childish, anyone would’ve said that you needed to grow up.” “But it wasn’t just that you said it”, I tell her, “Truth is, I was about to quit. My friends and I decided to crash one final university before we left. We snuck into the girls’ hostel by mistake and a security guard chased us but while I was running away I saw someone. I saw you.” “I remember that”, she exclaims excitedly, “I stepped out of my room for a second to see a bunch of guys running down the stairs. You were one of them?!” “You bet I was”, I confirm and we both laugh, “But that was what turned things around for me, I saw you for just half a second but everything came back to me, how you told me I was wasting my time, how I should grow up and be responsible. I realized you were right. So I wanted to meet you and say… Thanks.” Emily looks flattered but begins to laugh again the next second. I see the hilarity in it too. She basically saw my whole future four years ago and it took me that long to understand what she meant back then. “Well, if I don’t make it as an architect I can always fall back to fortune telling.” “And I’ll be happy to give people good recommendations about you”, I say, “Your turn, what’ve you been doing for the last four years?” “Do I need to tell you?” “Probably not, I can guess. You finished college and you’re an architect now”. “No partying for me.” She nods. “I know it’s obvious that you’re an architect but tell me what you did.” “Well, let’s just say things didn’t start out smoothly”. “I’ll take another guess”, I interject, “You had to delay your studies because there was no teacher at first.” “Half right. I did get delayed.” “Why?” I ask her expecting something nonsensical to me. “My aunt died”, she says gloomily. I don’t say anything at first, taken aback. “The one who picked you at the airport?” I ask her to clarify, she nods. “She went on a flight to New York, on September 11 2001”, she says axiomatically. I don’t need to ask her any further. “Oh… I’m sorry”, is all I can think of saying to her. “It’s alright, I’ve had a lot of time to deal with it”, she says. Now something hits me, it’s so obvious that I feel like slapping myself for my stupidity. “That’s why I saw you at a hostel.” “I was wondering when you would get there”, she says smiling sadly. “What happened when she… you know.” “My aunt told me she had a job interview in New York. She took off in the morning and that was the one time I decided to sleep in. She probably thought it would be best not to wake me so she left without saying goodbye.” “Why would you suddenly want to sleep in late?” “Actually, it was because of what you said.” “What?” I ask, taken aback. “I thought about the things you said to me, occasionally, and that night I remembered you telling me to take it easy once in a while and for some reason I felt like doing that.” “So you never said bye to her because of me?” I ask her feeling guilty about it. “No, you had nothing to do with it, it was my own decision”, she says, “as a matter of fact, I want to thank you too.” “Thank me for what?” “I thought of another thing you said about socializing and meeting people so one day I met a girl on campus and just started talking to her. She told me she had a place for a roommate, I owe her for that and I want to thank you for your advice. So, thank you.” “You’re welcome. So, 9/11 took your aunt away and yet you came to the Middle East?” “You’re not the first person to ask me that.” “I’m not against any religion, in fact I actually really like these people but I just want to know your side of it. Most people have a kind of prejudicial attitude.” “Truth be told, I did too. For the first few months I hated these people, I blamed them all but my roommate convinced me otherwise.” “She’s right”, I say, “And if you ask me, I don’t think they even had a hand in any of it.” “Oh, a conspiracy theorist?” “You could say that”, I say, “How come you came to Oman, then?” “My roommate was an Omani.” “Oh”, I say pointedly. “I made my peace with all of it but I wanted to see these people for myself, I wanted to know what they were like”, she tells me, “I’ve actually never told this to anyone but one of the reasons for me to come here was this.” “And what’s your opinion now?” “Well, the first Omani I met was Habib”, she says. “And I have to say he’s enough proof I need. Just by talking a little to him I can tell that the whole prejudice so many of us have is wrong.” “You do have a thing for him, then”, I joke. “Sure I do”, she says sarcastically. “Kidding aside, I’m glad you feel this way, it’s so much better to set things aside.” “And move on…?” she ends my sentence, although I wasn’t about to say that. “Sure, so let’s come back to college”, I say, “What happened next?” “So, I moved in with my roommate and, mind you this all took a few months so I was behind my studies, when I was finally able to return.” “But you had a valid reason”. “Yeah, but the college couldn’t stop the course because of me. I had to cover up a lot of things. It took me a little more effort than I would have normally needed but I finished my first year. After that the rest of my time in college breezed by and I graduated”. She says and stops. I wait for her to continue but realize this is all there is to her story. “That’s all? Tell me more.” “What else is there to tell?” she asks, “I didn’t have anything else.” “Yeah, but wasn’t there something noteworthy?” “Like what?” “I don’t know, anything funny happened with you and your friends?” “I would have told you the story of the dorm crashers but you turned out to be one of them.” “So that’s the only crazy thing you did?” I ask, “Or didn’t do?” “My college life went as I planned”, she says firmly, “I’m just happy it went by as I wanted it, no hurdles in the way.” “Yeah, but didn’t you want more than that?” I can’t comprehend that all she did was study, I get that’s the point of college but she doesn’t have any memories to take forward. When she’s old and her grandkids ask her about it all she’ll tell them is that she studied, yeah really great story, grandma. “Unlike you I don’t need so much excitement in my life.” She says. “I’m not saying you should go into a bar and accidently knock someone’s beer onto their pants and get beaten up for it but you should at least have done something.” “Well, I don’t know what to tell you, Nick, if I could go back in time and do that for you, I would”, she says, “By the way that was a very accurate fake example”, she adds amusedly. “Ok, at least tell me what kind of guys you dated”, I ask, one thing college girls want is to have a good time. No matter what Emily told me four years ago I’m sure she must have been into someone. “I had relationships”, she says and I nod approvingly, “With nobody and no one.” “What?” Is she kidding? “If you’re joking, it’s not that funny”, I say but she continues to look at me determinedly and I have to accept that she’s telling the truth. “Oh come on, Emily”, I say exasperatedly, “You’re telling me you didn’t have any interest in dating?” “That’s what I’m saying.” “You’re not into girls or anything, right?” I ask her. She hits me on the arm. “Of course not”, she says amusedly. “Just had to clarify”, I say. “Why, then? You weren’t interested in it four years ago, either, I thought maybe you needed some time to, well, get interested”. She gets up from the bench and starts walking. “I feel like going up to that bridge.” “Ok, wait for me”, I say and catch up with her. “So?” “So what?” “You know, why aren’t you interested?” I ask her again, I have a feeling something must have happened to turn her off from dating. “I’m just not”, she says sounding uncomfortable. I just revealed all the hardships I had to face at college and although she told me about her aunt she’s still holding back and I feel like she should come clean. “You can’t just not be interested in anyone”. I say. She stays quiet for a bit. We make our way over to the bridge. I see a waterfall in the near distance. The sky is a perfect blue now, no clouds to obscure the sun. We get the full blast of the sunlight but we’re too busy gazing into our reflections in the river. “Had enough time to work on your response?” I break the silence. “I don’t need to”, she says not looking at me, “I don’t have anything else to tell you.” “You and I both know that’s not true”. “You know what, you keep on asking me about my dating life but I don’t know anything about yours”, she says shortly, “I asked you back in the souk and you didn’t reply, how are you any different?” “Hey, I’m open to telling you anything.” “Fine, then tell me” she says, “Although judging by what your plans were and the way you behaved in college I’m thinking you didn’t have a girlfriend.” “Now, why would you think that?” “I just told you, you probably duped a few girls with your bad boy style but I’m sure you couldn’t stay with one girl.” “You know you’re always right about me”, I tell her, she smiles triumphantly, “But not in this case.” “How am I wrong?” “Because I do have a girlfriend”. “Have? As in present tense?” “You heard me.” “You’re just lying to prove me wrong.” “I’ll show you the truth to prove you wrong”, I take out my phone and show her a picture, “Real enough for you?” “That’s an actual girl with you”, she says unbelieving. “Shocking, right?” I say sarcastically. “So, when did you get together, sometime recently?” “Time to prove you wrong again”, I say with triumph, “I’ve been with her for four years”. “Four years?” Emily asks, “You mean since you started college.” “One out of three marks for you. Not your usual perfect but at least you were right once.” “I still can’t believe it.” “Well, then start trying to, because it’s true.” “How did you meet?” “Funny story, you won’t believe it”, I say, this reminds me that I did try and tell her this story before. “Why don’t you try telling the story first?” “Remember the example I gave you a few minutes ago?” “The one with the beer spilling?” “Actually, there’s more to the story. Like you remembered, I did plan on being a player, I hit on a few girls when I first got to campus but struck out, my friend told me girls were easy at bars so I went there.” “Weren’t you 19?” “Yeah, but I slipped in”, I continue, “My friend told me to get a little drunk and I’d feel confident, I bought a drink but I actually was nervous because I was only 19 and felt like my mom would catch me somehow”. Emily giggles at the last line. “Yes, I thought of my mommy, moving on, my hands kept trembling and the crowd was crazy in that place. Anyway, there was this big guy next to me.” “And you dropped it on him?” Emily asks amusedly. “Worse, I dropped it on his girlfriend”, I reveal, she laughs at this, “Funny now, but I was scared out of my mind then, the guy got all pissed and punched me in the face.” “Oh, my god, really?” “Yeah, the punch knocked me back onto a group of girls sitting behind and I fell on one’s lap.” “Your girlfriend?” “No, that girl slapped me for falling on her”, I say, Emily resumes her chuckles, “But her friend thought I was funny and helped me up, it was her 21st birthday and she thought I made it memorable, and that was my girlfriend.” “Her 21st birthday?” Emily enquires, “So she’s two years older than you.” “I told you I don’t mind dating older women.” “Well now I have definitive proof. And you’ve been with her since?” “I have.” “I have to give it to you, that’s a good story but…” she says, “Didn’t she mind when you were all crazy and irresponsible?” “I guess she would, if most of those things weren’t her idea.” “You’re joking”, Emily says in disbelief, “She actually wanted you to skip classes and crash other universities?” “Yeah, my mom really hates her for that.” “What about your last year, when all you did was study?” “The whole ‘let’s crash one last university’ idea was hers because that was the year she finished her studies so she was leaving anyway. Because of that I was able to concentrate on studies.” “And what about you guys then?” she asks, “How’d you stay in touch.” “We chatted on the internet and met a few times over the year.” “And you guys kept going strong? No setbacks?” “Well, there were a few”, I reveal, I can’t help but be honest to her, “A few weeks would go by and she wouldn’t reply to me but she would always come back.” “Nothing else?” “There was another thing… There was this one guy she used to talk about, from what she told me about him I could tell he was hitting on her although she just called me jealous.” “And was there something to worry about?” “Ultimately.” “What happened?” “I kept on insisting that she come to visit me, I was so swamped with studies I couldn’t make the time to go to her, eventually she agreed but guess who she brought along?” “That guy?” “Exactly, when I asked about it she told me he was her ride”, I say, “she kept on assuring me there was nothing to worry about but I just didn’t like that guy. I noticed they were really touchy with each other and it really bothered me, I told her straight to tell him to leave.” “How’d she take it?” “She dropped a pretty big bombshell, told me she wasn’t sure about this whole long distance thing. She wondered whether we were too young to go steady, wanted time and space away. So, she left and I went back to studies.” “So how’d you get back together?” “Who says we’re broken up?” “You didn’t make up after that?” “She says she wants space and I’m giving it to her.” “How long has it been?” “A month.” “That’s a long time”, she says, “Haven’t you spoken to her?” “I’m trying to give her what she wants, time and space.” “It’ been a long time and here in Muscat there’s a lot of distance between the two of you”, she says, “Aren’t you worried the other guy’s with her?” “It’ll be alright”, I assure her, “She told me she wouldn’t speak to him, either.” “And you’re sure you can trust her?” “I already screwed things up by not trusting her before so I think it’s best if I do what she wants”. I say, Emily looks like she wants to say something more. “If you’re sure about it”, she says meekly. “Spill it out whatever you really want to say”. I insist. She ponders over it and then replies. “The thing is… it kind of sounds like she, well, dumped you without you knowing about it.” “No way, you’ve got it wrong”, I defend myself. That can’t be it, we’re just taking a break from each other. “Really think over it, you’ll see what I’m saying. She went to the same place where that guy went, she hasn’t spoken to you in over a month and you’re all the way over here and she doesn’t even know it. Just think about it, Nick.” I take in her words. It was after she had left that I settled for this whole ‘giving each other space thing’. I haven’t heard from her in a month, Emily’s right, that guy’s with her over there and I have no idea whether they have been meeting or not. I called to tell her I was coming here for an important reason but she didn’t pick up the phone, it went to voicemail, maybe she didn’t answer because she didn’t want me to return, which leaves only one possibility… “I have no girlfriend”, I say out loud, more to myself. “Sorry about that”, Emily says apologetically. I look at her, why is it that whenever I meet her she makes me reevaluate my life? “This must be what it feels like to get an epiphany”, I say and turn my stare away. The park’s beauty’s gone away suddenly, I don’t feel any peace here now. “You know, I might not even be right”, she says in a tone that sounds unlike her. “Maybe this is me just over analyzing as usual.” “You’ve never been wrong before. She did want me to leave her.” “Sorry if I meddled.” Emily looks apologetic. “No, it’s not your fault”, I assure her, “If anything, I owe you another thanks. You’ve made me get out of my denial.” “You weren’t in denial, you were just being… Nick”, she says continuing with that strange tone. “And what is ‘being Nick?’” “You know, being a hopelessly optimistic person, the kind of guy who thinks whatever happens, it’ll all work out eventually.” “Turns out there’s an exception”, I say dejectedly. “Come on, don’t be like that, being depressive is my thing, if you start doing that then we’re two sad people standing at the foot of a waterfall.” She says. I look up to see we’ve walked all the way to the waterfall without me even realizing it. “I thought time flew when you were having fun not the other way round.” “Hey, are you saying I’m not fun to be around?” Emily asks in that odd voice. “You know what I mean”, I say, “And you can stop being all cheerful and weird.” “Fine, I’ll drop it”, she says apparently not wanting to put on a pretense. “But you have to be like Nick again.” “Ok, deal”, I shake her hand but don’t want to stand around here, it’ll just get me thinking again. I want to divert my mind away. When is it that I’m not thinking about these kinds of things? When I’m scared. I see the pathway leading up to the waterfall. An impulsive thought comes to me. “Want to walk up the waterfall?” Emily suggests. “No”, I reply still looking at the path. “Yeah, I knew you wouldn’t”, she says. Oh, how well you know me, Emily, but here’s something you don’t expect me to say. “I don’t want to walk up there”, I say, “I want to run up there.” “Excuse me?” she asks surprised, “Did you forget you’re scared of heights?” “I won’t have time to be if I run”, I say looking at her with determination. “Let’s have a race.” “I think you’re still reeling from that shock of yours”, she says moving over to a coffee shop next to where we stand. “You want me to go back to depressive Nick?” “So you’re resorting to blackmail now?” “If it gets you to run up there with me.” “You really have lost it.” “Maybe I have”, I say not denying it. “Look, I’m running up there whatever you say so you can either sit here and come and get me up there later or you can run up with me now.” Emily stands up unsure of the idea. “Why don’t we just walk?” “Because I don’t want to get scared on the way”, I tell her, “And I don’t want to think about anything right now either, so the best thing to do is run like hell.” “Fine, but don’t say I don’t do anything for you”, she relents. She stands next to me and I prepare myself for the run. “By the way I’m not above cheating so don’t complain if I do”, I say looking on. “Well I am, so I won’t”, she says, as I expected her to, “By the way, what’s that?” She points to my left, I look over only to see her take off on the path up the waterfall. That minx, she just played me. I take off after her, the pathway’s surrounded by lush trees and bushes and it would have been a beautiful place to walk had I not decided run instead, I have a race to win. I finally make it over to Emily, and move past her. The wind rushes into my eyes, I blink and open my eyes again to find myself at the top. I walk along a little ahead to sit. My chest feels like it’s on fire, I can barely breathe. My heart beats a thousand times faster than usual, eyes burn, hands and legs feel numb from the insistent running. I sit and gasp for breath while Emily limps beside me. She seems winded too. “So… happy now?” she asks. “I guess”, is all I manage, “I wish I brought some water though.” “I thought you’d say that”, she says and hands me a water bottle. I look at it astonished. Ok, she has been able to read me pretty well but this is just too good. “Thanks”, I say, taking the bottle form her. It takes a lot of gulping for me to say the rest. “How did you know? You’re way too good at this.” “Actually, I bought this bottle a little while ago, it’s been in my purse this whole time”, she reveals laughingly, “But thank you for saying that.” “Now that you say it, I do realize this water tastes warm”, I say, “But thanks all the same.” “You’re going to buy me another bottle.” “Not for that”, I clarify, “For going along with my crazy impulse.” “The thing about being with you is that on occasion, the other person just has to go with it.” Emily stands up and turns around to see the view. “Wow, it’s even better than from the bridge”, she says. I thought she’d say that. “Check it out, Nick.” “I’m good, thanks.” “Come on, it’s breathtaking.” “I’m short of breath, as it is”, I tell her, “I don’t want a heart attack.” “Hey, I did what you wanted now you do what I want”, she says. “But I’m scared of heights.” “You won’t feel scared of this view.” I get up, after all she has been nice to me about this whole break up thing and she did run up here when she didn’t want to. I brace myself and get a glimpse of the park, my nerves start to kick in, bad memories come crashing. Emily turns my head a little up so I don’t have a view of the ground but of the city skyline. It worked! I don’t feel scared. What I do see is what Emily wanted me to. The view of the entire park, every place we’ve crossed. The lake, the bridge, the bench we sat on, the field we walked in and the outskirts. I look to my right and see Emily happily gazing forward, not noticing me. What If I hadn’t run into her today? Where would I have been right now? I probably would’ve been bored. I’ve been hard on her for not telling me everything but she’s right, I haven’t told her much either. She thinks I’m here on a vacation, I’ve been roaming around the city with her using the hotel excuse because I thought she’d tell me to go for more important things, but now I think she did want to stay with me today, maybe just as much as I wanted to with her. It’s because of her I’m even thinking right now, within the past four years I’ve only really thought of anything when I’ve seen or met her. “Almost 6 o clock now”, I tell her, looking at my watch and turning away fast. “You want to stay here longer?” “I don’t mind if you do”, she replies, still mesmerized by the view. “Well, you clearly want to stay here a little more so we’ll wait.” “No, it’s okay”, she says tearing her eyes from the view. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to.” “No, let’s go if you do”. “You know, I’m sensing a pattern here”, I say, “We’ve been doing this all day.” “Yeah, I guess we have”. She says smiling, “How about this? One of us gets to decide what we do from here.” “Ok, if you think that’s a good idea.” “You’re doing it again.” “Sorry, the thing is, I have no idea where to go so looks like you’re the boss”. I say. “Where do you propose we go next? The park ends here.” “How about we ask Habib?” “No problem.” “No comment about him, now?” “I’ve decided not to stand in the way of true love”, I joke. “You’re so kind”, she says mockingly. “Am I not?” I play along, “So, shall we?” I motion towards the exit, I’d spotted a separate way to get down from the waterfall, a staircase, and I’m sure we’ll get to the bottom much quicker from here. “If only Habib could’ve brought the car here, it would’ve been so much easier to leave.” “That taxi looks familiar”, Emily says. “That’s because they all look the same”, I respond, “See? Even the driver looks the same as ours.” “That’s because he is”, Emily says with a laugh. I gawk at the car headed our way. Would you look at that, it actually is him. “I think you like it better if I bring car here”, Habib says. “We were just saying that, weren’t we, Nick?” says Emily, I nod along. “Sorry if we took too long, the park was so big we lost track of time.” “It’s no problem”, Habib says with a wave of his hand. Emily suddenly sits up straight, taking me by surprise. “I know where we can go next. Habib, where can we have some good kahwa?” “Shatti al Qurm has best.” “Ok then, take us there”, says Emily. She turns over to me, “Kahwa’s one of the local-“ “Yeah it’s like tea, I know”, I finish for her, “I had it when I had shawarma back home.” “You don’t sound too enthusiastic.” “I didn’t really like it”, I admit, “But the local shawarma was better so maybe I’ll like the kahwa here.” We use the exit and I see the Shatti al Qurm sign, must be only five minutes away. “I’ve read about this area too”, Emily says, “It’s supposed to be the posh area of the city.” “Good, we’ve seen the cultural part of Muscat, the park was the natural bit and now we get to see the high class portion. Although at the danger of sounding mildly boastful, I don’t think their posh will be as rich as ours”, as soon as these words leave my mouth I see the blur outline of a car speeding past us, I had enough time to see the company logo at its back. “Was that a Ferrari?” “I think it was”, Emily confirms. Another car swooshes past us, a Lamborghini. Soon enough, hordes of top of the line automobiles make their way through. I can’t believe it, I’ve never seen so many together. “Have you seen these cars before, Habib?” I ask. “This happen every evening in this part of city.” “You were saying?” Emily asks me with a leer. “Living here would be awesome.” I remark. “Wow, doesn’t take much to convince you to move, does it?” she jokes but I’m not really listening to her. Man, imagine making it in this city and getting to drive those cars. “Are you listening?” “Huh? Of course I am.” “It looked you were kind of lost in your thoughts.” “Thoughts, and me?” I joke. “Yeah, you’re right.” She laughs. We park outside a lavish looking building which happens to be the Shatti al Qurm cinema. I spot Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire among the film posters. “I bet you must have been the first person to see this movie”, I say to Emily. “You know, I get that a lot but I haven’t”, she says. “By the time it came out I was planning to come here so I didn’t see it.” “That is a surprise”, I say, “I saw the latest book at the airport when I was leaving, for some reason, I expected to see you trying to get it.” We enter a classy looking restaurant just off the cinema, and make our way to a table for two. “I did get it, although I didn’t have to fight someone for it this time.” She looks at me pointedly. “Oh, how was it?” “It’s good”, she replies, “Although I don’t like some of the things that happened.” “Tell me about it, I can’t believe she killed off Dumbledore”. “What? Dumbledore dies?” she asks astonished. “I haven’t finished it yet.” “Ooh”, I say awkwardly. “You did that on purpose.” “No, I didn’t. It was a mistake”, I argue but she continues to look at me crossly, “Ok, it wasn’t.” “You suck.” “Come on, you would’ve found out about it eventually, anyway.” “I don’t like knowing spoilers.” “I’ll make sure not to slip anything the next time.” “You still suck.” “Fair enough”, I agree, “But you honestly don’t like knowing the ending before?” “What’s the point of reading a book if you know what’s going to happen?” “Because then you don’t waste your time reading it only to have a crappy ending.” “But it takes the fun out of it.” She says. “Better than not wasting my time.” “Clearly we have two different views.” “Yup, I remember feeling so annoyed when I read the ending of this one.” “Wait, you actually read it? I thought you didn’t read books”. She says. “Honestly, I only got into reading because I still had the one I bought at the airport four years ago.” “You mean the one you stole from me.” says Emily accusingly. “Hey, I bought that fair and square.” “But you weren’t planning on reading it.” “I did in the end, though didn’t I? Although I haven’t seen it since I finished reading it, lost it, I guess.” “I didn’t expect you to read it, let alone keep it with you.” Our kahwa arrives by this point. The waiter keeps it on the table and waits on us. “Would you like anything else?” he asks. I notice a lot of people smoking shishas in this place, I’ve never tried it before. “Yes, could we have a shisha?” “Shisha?” Emily asks. “I’ve never had it before.” “You smoke?” “No, but this is different.” “I read somewhere than one shisha is the same as 300 cigarettes.” “Well, I’ve never had a cigarette so this evens it out.” “Suit yourself”, she says and picks up her kahwa, “Try yours.” “Ok, but let’s do it together.” I say unsurely, the smell isn’t too welcoming. “Count of three”, she says, “1…2…3.” We both take a big nip, as I expected the kahwa tastes disgusting. It’s extremely bitter and makes me feel as if I just drank hot gutter water. “Yuck”, I say with a wretched face, placing my hand over my mouth to stop myself from puking. Emily laughs as she sets her cup down. “What’s so funny?” I ask. “I really thought I’d like it.” “And how was it?” “Disgusting”, she says and we both laugh. “Told you it wasn’t good.” “No harm in trying.” “I’m glad you say that”, I say just as the waiter brings our shisha to us, “Now you have to try this.” “What? No way.” “I just a mouthful of gutter water for you”, I argue, “You’re going to do this for me.” “But it’s unhealthy.” “The thing I just tasted may have been contagious.” “Fine, but you try first.” “As long as you will, too”, I put the filter in my mouth and take a big huff, the smoke goes in my mouth and I let it out. Tastes like Apples. “That looks weird”, Emily observes me. “Your turn”, I say and hand it over to her. She looks at me again unwilling but I persist so she takes a drought herself, in a millisecond she lets the smoke out coughing. I can’t help laughing. She looks like she’s having a heart attack. “Happy now?” she coughs but joins in the amusement. What a day it’s been, I’ve laughed and I’ve been sad, all in a few hours. What I came here to do was forgotten for the most part, a glance at the clock tells me it’s 7 o clock, almost time to leave, I’ve kept my phone off since I met Emily. I don’t want him to get angry. “You know, as much fun as this has been, I think you’ve forgotten what you really came here for”. Emily says catching me off guard. How does she know? “What do you mean?” “Didn’t you want to look for hotels?” “Oh, yeah sure”, I say but I can’t continue acting. “Actually, I’m not…” My phone, which I had just turned on under the table, rings loudly. Their “Sorry”, says Nick looking at his phone with an oddly frightened expression, “I’ll just take this call a sec.” He moves away leaving me feeling like I have been for the past few hours, like someone else. I can’t really describe it, which makes it even more frustrating and wonderful at the same time. My head’s been so light, at least since we were in that awful hotel. Maybe it was the smell. There I go talking to myself as if Nick were in my head. With him, you just have to go with it, and the strange thing is, I really don’t mind. When you’re with him there’s a guarantee of having fun. What’s really taken me by surprise is finding out that he’s open to change. I remember thinking how he would probably fail at college. But he recovered. Maybe I did have a positive influence on him, like he said. The poor guy, I didn’t take him for a person who would settle for one person. There’s more to him than meets the eye and I like that I got to see a different side of him today. What if that security guard really had arrested him? We would’ve been in a jail cell right now and I can’t believe he made me run all the way to the top of the waterfall. I must have sounded so strange when I tried to cheer him up. I tried to be like he is to me generally. It was uncomfortably comfortable to act like that. I wasn’t myself but it felt good not to be, at least not for a little while. I planned on leaving for a different city tomorrow but I’m not sure what I’ll do now. I think I’ll ask him if he wants to join me. I could use the company, truth be told I don’t think I’ll have much fun by myself. Fine, I’ve decided, when he comes back I’ll tell him we’ll go check in a hotel and the next day we’ll go somewhere else together. Maybe I’ll tell him about my ‘love life’ if he insists on knowing. After all, he did tell me his. “Sorry about that”, he says, taking his seat. “Where were we? Oh, you were about to tell me about your relationship issues.” “I don’t think we were talking about that at all.” “Let’s say we were, so what is it really?” “Why are you back on this all of a sudden?” “Because I just remembered that we had a deal.” “You really want to know?” she asks. Is she actually going to tell me? I’ve got to come clean with her any second but I’ll listen to this first. “Yes, I do.” “Then you’re going to have to wait.” “Till when?” “Till I decide when to tell you, I promise I will”, she says, I’ll have to pass up on this, I don’t think I’ll be able to meet her soon again. “You know what, don’t tell me but I want you to do something for me in return for respecting your secret.” “What’s that?” “Promise me you’ll start believing in relationships again”, I say and she looks taken aback. “Why?” “Promise me you will?” “Why do you care?” “Because I think it’s a shame that no one will get to see what a great person you are and I don’t think that’s fair to you or anyone else.” I don’t know where that came from, I didn’t plan on saying that. It is the truth though, for whatever reason she’s on this relationship boycott of hers I think she’ll miss out on making someone and herself happy and I don’t want her to end up alone. “Umm, okay then”, she says and with the same odd tone of voice she had in the park. “Not okay, say you promise.” “Nick…” “Emily, it’s really frustrating. I saw how naturally pleasant you were with strangers today and I just thought to myself, imagine how amazing she would be with someone. Someone whom she could make really happy.” “You’re just-“ “No I’m not, you might not see it but, truth is, you’re really the one who’s awesome. I hear sayings like ‘Diamond in the Rough’ but you’re right here and I honestly think that’s better.” She looks at me with a very different sort of expression, not saying anything. I keep looking at her and she does the same. Silence. Come on say something. “I promise”, she says in that tone. “Thank you”. I say. We both sit in silence again, I take a sip of the disgusting kahwa again to have something to do but I think she’s still looking at me. “Something on your mind?” I ask her finally. She looks like someone else. I can’t tell if she’s flattered or insulted. She shakes her head. “Hey, so I’ve decided”, she starts, the odd tone continues, “We’re going to a hotel now and tomorrow we’ll go to another to another city in Oman. What do you say?” That’s it, it’s time to tell her. “Don’t you want to stay in Muscat?” he asks. “I don’t think there’s anything left to do”, I say, “Why? Do you want to stay and have more of this fine Kahwa, or as you called it, gutter water?” “No.” “Or do you want to watch me puff out smoke again? Because you’re going to have to pay me this time.” “No, the thing is that I can’t leave Muscat.? “Why, in love with it after a few hours?” “Actually, I’m here for an important reason”, he says and I note his seriousness. “What’s the reason?” “Thing is, I’ve not been completely honest with you today.” “What do you mean?” “I’m not here on a vacation and I don’t need to stay at a hotel.” He says, I recollect that he did say that he was waiting for someone when I met him. “Then what are you here for?” “I’m here to meet my cousin”, he says, “Who’s going to try and get me a job… in Muscat.” “What?” I ask. “I asked my cousin here to set up some interviews.” “Why?” I ask him astonished, he didn’t seem high on Muscat when we got here and he hates mountains. “At that time I was depressed with my girlfriend and I took her ‘space away’ thing a bit too literally”, he says, “So I thought Oman would be far enough.” “How did you think you’d get back together with her if you worked here?” “She said another thing before she left, she said I would never be serious and I’d just slack for the rest of my life, so unless I did something that proved I wasn’t irresponsible I shouldn’t call her.” “But she was the one who got you doing all those things in college in the first place.” “Yes, you’re right and I’m grateful you made me see things straight”, he says, “I’m not going to call her now, but I can’t back out of the job thing.” “So, when you left for a few minutes at the airport to talk to someone on the phone, you were calling your cousin?” I ask, he nods. “I saw you after so long, I wanted to talk to you a little longer, so I told him I’d meet him later.” “What were you going to do if you hadn’t met me?” Nick looks hesitant to answer that. “We were going to practice before I went on the interviews, he said I had a lot to learn before I could go. It would take the whole day.” “And when do you have your interviews?” “I have a few tomorrow”, he says in a small voice. I’m not sure what to say to him. He had much more important things to do and he spent his time wandering Muscat with me. “Your future’s in question and you wasted your one day!” “I was afraid you might say something like that, that’s why I didn’t tell you.” “Of course I would’ve told you to go, Nick, this is much more important.” I say, “What did your cousin say just now on the phone?” “He was all pissed off because he’d been calling me all day and I hadn’t picked up.” “Why didn’t you pick his calls? “I had my phone switched off in case he did call me.” “Oh, Nick”, I say, this is disappointing. “It’s alright, I’m a quick learner, I’ll prepare by tomorrow.” He tries to assure me but I can’t help feeling guilty. “You’re not mad are you?” he asks weakly. “I’m not mad, I just feel responsible.”. “Don’t feel that way. I’m sure I’ll be great. Maybe my cousin’s exaggerating or I could get lucky”, he says but I continue looking at him disappointed. “Honestly, Emily, It’ll be alright.” “Still hopelessly positive, huh?” I ask him, the same thing I said to him earlier today. “That’s who I am”, he says smiling. “So let’s forget about all this, just stay in Muscat a little longer and we’ll go together.” “I think you know that’s not going to happen.” “Come on, Emily”, he insists, “Be impulsive like you said you were today, and just go with it.” “This is where normal Emily comes back in”, I say, “Can’t go with this.” “It’ll be fine.” “You’re fighting a losing battle here”, I save him some time. “You sure?” he asks disappointedly. “Yup”, I reply, looks like it’s going to be a one person trip after all. “Ok, let’s go and find a hotel for you now”, he says, getting up after paying the bill. I look at him with the same expression. “Don’t tell me you want to go alone.” “What did you tell your cousin?” “He told me to stay here, but I can tell him to get me later.” “No, you’re not.” “Emily, you’re taking this much more seriously than it is.” “Maybe, but this is it though, I’m going to check in a hotel by myself.” “Let me…” his voice trails. “It’s alright”, I say, “You can drop me till the car.” It takes less than a minute and we’re backing to looking at each other. “Fine, you can leave”, he says dejectedly, “But I’m not letting you go without at least giving me your number, unless you want to wait another four years?” “Ok”, I say and give him my number. He dials it in his phone. I don’t save it just yet, I keep getting the feeling that if I look away from her she’ll vanish. “And can you at least meet me once tomorrow?” I ask, I’m pushing my luck here. “Why?” “You’re going to leave aren’t you?” I say, “I want to meet once before you do, it’ll just be a few minutes.” “I don’t know”, she says, her voice trailing. “It’ll only be a few minutes”, I repeat. “Okay, when and where do we meet?” “I’ll call and tell you”. I say, holding up my phone. She nods in agreement and we smile at each other for a while. This is such an abrupt goodbye. I didn’t handle it well. “So… I’ll get going now”, she says. I nod and open the door for her. “See you.” “Yeah, tomorrow”, I say. “Goodbye, Habib.” “You no come?” he asks, I shake my head, He waves at me. “Give your faithful cabbie a goodbye hug from me”, I whisper to Emily, she smiles. The car pulls out and they drive away. I keep my eyes on it until it vanishes from view. I still have my hand up in goodbye, I lower it and see her number dialed, before I can press save I get a call. “Yeah, Nate, I’m out here by the cinema”, I say picking up the phone but a feminine voice greets me. “Leah?” “You still remember my voice?” she asks. “How come you’re calling me?” “I got your voicemail”, she says, “Are you really in the Middle East?” “Yeah I am.” “I can’t believe you actually went there because of me”, she says sounding pleased. “You wanted me to be responsible.” “I was wrong about you. Look, can you come online and chat tonight?” “Leah, I’ve had a long day-“ “Please, Nick, for me. I just have a few things to tell you”, she pleads. I’m not sure what to say, Emily didn’t think Leah was going to contact me again and now here she is. “I’m going to be online now, so just come as fast you can.” “Ok, I’ll be online”, I say and press the call ending button but accidently end up pushing it twice. I forgot Emily’s number was dialed in. I didn’t save it, and now it’s erased. I don’t even know where she went. We didn’t decide where we were going to meet. In a second I’ve planned on talking to Leah and completely ruined any chance of seeing Emily again. Am I meant to talk to her? I guess I have no choice but to go with it. Chapter Three - 2006- His Where am I? Who are all these people? I can’t even see right, my head’s swinging so hard. I wobble through the crowd. Is this a cult gathering? They’re all moving themselves around so wildly. Most of them seem to be circling around a spot at the end. But I can’t get there, a loud vibrating sound’s stopping me in my tracks. As I get closer, it magnifies. The noise is so loud it’s breaking my eardrums. I cup them with my hands. I can’t take it anymore! “HEY”, I shout ahead, but no one responds. “HEEYYY”, I shout even louder. Why won’t they talk to me? “STOP THIS SOUND!!” now a few people turn around and stare at me, good, at least they’ll tell me what the hell’s going on. They’ve stopped looking at me again. What is the matter with these people? “CAN’T YOU HEAR ME?!!” a girl near me looks frightened, she’s the only one acknowledging me so I go after her. “Hey, buddy, take it easy”, some random guy pushes me back. “What’s your problem?” I ask him angrily. “I said, take it easy, bub!” “Hey, hands off if you want to keep it”, I push his hand away. Other guys start closing in. Nobody’s explaining what’s happening. I think I am in a cult. “I don’t want to join anything, leave me alone!” I yell at the crowd. Three guys walk toward me, why are they doing this? Are they going to force me into their sick cult?” “No, I don’t want to!!” I shout. “There’s no cult”, I hear a man behind me. I think I’m dying and these guys are trying to take me. “STAY BACK!!” “This guy’s crazy!” “I said STAY BACK”. “Hey, buddy you’ve had enough, you’re out of here”, a large man stands right in front of me. “No, you can’t take me!” “That’s it, come here”, he lunges at me. “You should know when to cut a guy off, Jeff!” I hear their words but can’t understand what they mean. “I’M NOT GOING TO GO!” “JUST GRAB HIM ALREADY!” I feel a pair of hands grab me from behind. I struggle against it but the large man’s taken hold of my legs. “NO, I DON’T WANT TO DIE!!” The two men hold me up. They’re going to take me. Am I going to hell? The men hold me higher and start swinging. They’re throwing me in the fire. I land with a huge thud, rolling in agony. My head’s spinning. I can’t bear to open my eyes, everything hurts. But nothing burns, wasn’t I supposed to be in hell. I open my eyes. A half lit street. Where am I? I look at a door with a big man guarding it. So one thing’s for sure. I’m not dead. I look around to see lots of people standing in line, some even laughing at me. I feel sick and hate myself. There’s only one explanation. I’m at a club. With the subsiding spinning comes the recollection of my memories. You really are an idiot, Nick. It was my own idea to come to this club. The vague image of a bottle being thrown by my hand comes to mind. Man, my roommate’s an idiot like me. He agreed to come here. It worked out for him though, didn’t it? The memory of Carl picking up some girl at the bar comes to mind. With the pain in my head hammering down, we both got nailed tonight. Seeing Carl, a guy who had such rotten luck with women, picking up a girl annoyed me further and that’s when the drinking got out of control. So, here I am, a year ago I would have called this a new low, yet somehow over that time this has become a regular occurrence. How did it even come to this? I had it all worked out, it was supposed to be foolproof. They all thought I was going to be a success, what a joke I am to everyone who knows me. But not to her, I never saw her again after that day. She still thinks I’m doing something great, if only I saw her again, things seem to make so much sense when she’s around. Who am I thinking of, again? Her “I can’t believe you’re here, when she told me you were coming I was sure you’d back out.” “Remember this is just the first step, you don’t have to jump on the first guy you see.” “I’d love to see someone pick you up tonight.” “That’s never going to happen, I think the fact she showed up is a miracle.” “You’re not nervous, are you?” I shake my head at the question. My roommate couldn’t believe her ears when I told her I wanted to come along as well tonight, after having asked me over and again for the past year. The reaction of other friends was also expected. But, Wow! I really did not expect the surprise to be of this magnitude. “Move ahead, Anna Nicole Smith, it’s time to flash this news on ET, our girl’s single and ready to mingle. We’ll work on that last bit”. Is what Stacy, my roommate said. “It’s not that big of a deal.” “Not big of a deal?” she’d responded, “When you asked to come along I thought I was having a stroke.” But she wasn’t the only one acting this way. Everyone else said things along the same lines. “April fool’s day was months ago.” “Are you dying?” “Guys! It’s not a big deal”, I’d repeated. “Yes it is.” They’d all replied in unison. Now I’m standing outside some crummy looking club, deeply regretting my decision, of course. As I always do, I can’t stop over-thinking. What if someone approaches me? Do I respond or shake him off? I wonder if my friends will notice me slipping off discreetly. They’ve all come tonight just to see me at a club. It’s regular for all of them. Maybe they’re right in some way. At least they have a good time, more then what I can say for myself. It’s been a year since I’ve even taken a breath. As soon as I came back from Oman, a pretty lonely holiday, I was determined to throw myself into something relevant. Unfortunately, I didn’t anticipate myself getting stuck in a dead end job. I could be designing beautiful concert halls or even a cute little café. But instead I’m interning for a boss who doesn’t even know the difference between columns and pillars. The only thing that’s making me stay is the fact that it’s a reputed firm. Still, it doesn’t mean it’s not frustrating. Well I’ve had enough of all that, my friends - some of them unemployed, others working - seem to be getting the most out of life and my whole ‘holier than thou’ attitude, or at least that’s how I think I’ve come across to them, isn’t exactly making my life happy. “Hey, you still with us?” “Oh, ya. Why wouldn’t I be?” “You’ve been staring at that wall for about ten minutes now.” Stacy says. “Well it’s not like there’s anything else to do.” “Sorry about that, didn’t think it would be so crowded today.” “I thought you knew it in and out.” “I don’t always come here, you know. This isn’t even the best club around.” “Then why are we here?” “Those places, we’d be so swarmed with guys you wouldn’t even be able to find me anymore.” “Because you would’ve gone home with one of them?” “Possibly, but the reason I didn’t take you there is that we’re going to start out slow.” “And how will I have a good time by just sitting around?” “Booze makes everything fun, honey.” I laugh. Stacy maybe a bit flaky but I need someone like her in my life to counter balance the negativity I feel when I’m alone. I’m glad I met her. It’s weird how I have a tendency to befriend people so energetic, especially an introvert like me. This brings my mind to him. The reason I’m here in the first place, the only day I enjoyed my vacation. I thought of what he said. Could I really be more to others? That’s when I decided to be more social and that’s how the receptionist at my firm became my friend and my roommate. If he hadn’t said those words of encouragement I wouldn’t have been motivated to talk to Stacy who’s been such a big help to me. I see some of him in Stacy, maybe that’s why I like her so much. But there was something about him that made him different than the rest of the people I know. I think I was pretty good at guessing what he was thinking but I just can’t figure out what it was about him. I don’t even know what I felt towards him. All I know is that I was fond of him. He always pops up in my mind when I feel uncertain about life. Maybe it’s because I felt so detached from it when I talked to him, he’d always make it sound so simple, I guess I need that from time to time. I can even imagine his reaction to me being here. He’d probably make a lot of jokes about this, making me feel embarrassed and amused at the same time. I’d promised him I would do this. I guess if he were here he would make me feel a little more relaxed and I feel like I need that especially tonight. Their After that small moment of clarity or whatever it was, my dazed consciousness returns, I try to get up but fall down. A flash of light bursts in front of my closed eyelids. I painfully open them to see the bonnet of a car. HONK! The sound crashes through my ears. It just pisses me off. “I’m not moving”, I continue lying down. BEEP! “Get out of my face!!” I shout at the driver. I see nothing except the car lights on my face. “JUST RUN ME OVER”, I scream. The honking stops. The lights turn off too. “What the hell’s the damn problem? I hear a man shouting angrily. “Hey, he’s talking to you”, another voice shouts. “Maybe we should just drive over him.” “Let’s just throw him aside.” The last words barely register in my head but I’m getting the feeling I’m not going to like what they mean. The next moment I feel myself lifted up in the air for the second time this night. “Would you look at that”, Stacy points to our left. “Some guys just get really freaky”, says Melanie. “He’s still not moving.” “You think they’ll run over him?” “Nah, but they might throw him somewhere”, Stacy says, “And I was right, and there he goes down.” “That must have hurt although he’s probably too drunk to feel it.” Okay, they’ve been talking about this for too long and now I’m curious. A man lies down on the footpath just opposite to us. Two guys dust off their hands and drive off in their car. “Believe it or not that’s the second time he’s been thrown tonight”, the bouncer tells me. “Really? Who threw him the first time?” “Me.” “Oh”, is all I say, feeling taken aback. Drunk, wild, thrown around. The party life hasn’t really made a good first impression on me. I actually feel bad about the guy lying on the ground. Poor person, maybe he had his reasons to be depressed today. “So, we’re just going to leave him like that?” I ask Stacy. “Yeah, you’ll see weirdoes like that all the time”, she replies. “I still don’t like the thought of leaving him out here.” “You’ll get used to it.” The man stirs, not even a single person pays him any heed, except me. I can’t help feeling sorry for him, the idea of stranding him on the side of the road doesn’t sound humane. “I think I’ll go check up on him.” I tell my friends. “Are you crazy? He could be a psycho.” “But he looks like he’s in pain.” “He’ll be fine tomorrow, you don’t know these creeps Emily, they turn into stalkers.” “I think he’s getting up.” I observe. “See? He’s fine, so let’s go in.” I’m definitely going to feel all of this tomorrow. After the second throw down, I think even my drunken state agrees that it’s best I get up from here. Like before, no one cares that I’ve been lying here. Except one, she seems to be looking this way. Way to go, Nick, you’ve still got it. I think I’ll make my way over to her. As I come closer to the girl I realize she’s not alone, she’s with a pack of other women. They all look at me. I still like the first one. She stands by a red haired girl, if I was sober I would say they look scared but right now I’m thinking they might be interested. The first girl looks familiar. Do I know her? I can’t believe it. It’s her! “Is he coming here?” Melanie asks nervously. “He’s crossing the street.” “He’s looking at you.” “What do I do?” “Just don’t pay him any attention.” “You shouldn’t have looked at him in the first place”, Melanie says. “Shut up, just get in”, Stacy says. “He’s saying something.” “Emily!!” I freeze, how does he know my name? “Emily!!” the guy shouts again, he sounds familiar. Stacy tries to force me in the club but I keep standing. I haven’t heard that voice for a long time. “Hey, wait, it’s me”. It’s him. How can it be, though? Wasn’t he supposed to be halfway around the world? Why is he dwindling on the street like a maniac? A drunken one at that. “You know him?” “Umm”, I’m not sure what to do, I was just thinking about him a little while ago, here he is somehow but he’s definitely drunk out of his mind. He looks different too. My friends all look scared of him and I’m sure I can’t explain anything to them right now. “Emily, Hey!” “That creep bothering you?” the bouncer asks me. “No, it’s alright”, I say but I’ve stopped in my tracks. “It’s me. Nick”, he shouts although he’s almost with us. My friends hurry inside the club, Melanie and Stacy both grab me. “Emily, do you know him?” Stacy asks me again. I look at her but don’t reply, I look back at Nick and see him falling back down. The last trace of doubt whether it was him or not vanished when he said his name but it also made me decide on something else. “Let’s go inside.” “Finally”, Melanie says with relief. She and Stacy go in with a flurry, Even after I’d said it I hadn’t moved but now with Stacy’s pull I get in too. I don’t move my gaze off the street. “Hey, buddy I thought I threw you out”, the bouncer stands in Nick’s way. “I know her”, Nick argues. “Get out of the way before I make you.” “Let me in”, Nick tries to push the man away. Stacy jerks me one more time and the last thing I see before my view gets blocked is Nick lifted up by the scruff of his neck. I didn’t need to see what happened next, it was pretty obvious when I heard the sound of someone crashing down on the ground outside. As we make our way inside and my friends break into excited giggles looking at guys, I can’t decide who I’m more disappointed with, them or Nick. And the biggest disappointment of the night, I actually I wore a dress for this. Chapter Four - 2007- Her arch82: no that’s not what im saying why would I jump off a crossbeam? Joe79: why would a person talk so long about crossbeams? arch82: because said person is an architect joe79: now u went ahead and told me about urself, did u forget the rule? arch82: crap! no telling personal details joe79: yup, now I know about u arch82: wellits not like I told you something big joe79: hey that might be all I need to track u down I could look up recent architectural women who have a fascination for crossbeams I maybe using the net to meet women for my next prey arch82: oh my how did I not see that? Joe79: Exactly! My evil plans working :P Where u gone off to? Did I actually scary u off? arch82: still here… your last comment just made me think of something joe79: U know other evil masterminds? arch82: I knew one Joe79: well tell me about him then arch82: he was just some guy I met a few years ago, we talked and he told me about himself I told him about myself We said goodbye Anyway I saw him again after awhile and it was like before This time he looked set to go for something big in his life and I was happy for him But then I saw again some time ago and he was just a mess Joe79: What happened to him? arch82: that’s the thing I never found out. I didn’t get the chance the talk to him and I guess I just feel bad joe79: if u ask me its not ur fault. u didn’t have a chance to know what happened so I dont think u should beat urself up about him arch82: I guess you’re right I’m pretty sure we’re breaking our rule who came up with it anyway? Joe79: Remember we both felt like telling each other our frustrations and wanted to stay anonymous? arch82: oh yeah in that chatroom How long ago was it? arch82: a month joe79: hmmm one month and the most I know about u is that ur an architect arch82: still more than what I can say about you actually I do remember you being frustrated about some girl joe79: yeah, ok ill tell u about her Anyway fast forward I asked her!! arch82: So what did you ask her????? Helllo You there????????? Joe79 has logged off arch82:  Internet problems? tell me about it when u get back You have logged off. Probably the most exciting news that I would’ve heard in a long time just went into standby. I click on the desktop window to see how many hours remain in my card. One and a half. I log into facebook. This new social networking website’s turned my friends crazy, apparently it’s the new ‘IT’ thing going around on the net. I’m not really high on this website, I prefer MSN. Being anonymous makes me feel easier, at least on the internet where I don’t want to run into any lurkers. On MSN I can appear offline and talk to people like Joe79. Browsing around my facebook homepage I see a recent status update from Stacy, ‘having the time of my life’, I smile at it. I’m happy for her. I feel like talking to her now. I log off and look around, every person on a computer, not surprising as I’m in a library and this is the electronic section. I don’t know why I keep talking to myself. The voices in my head are at their strongest in a place of serenity. I find my way out and in to the normal part of the library, books. I’ve had a love for them since I was a child, a school trip to the library felt like a trip to Disneyland. I love walking past these shelves. I glance outside of the huge windows overlooking the city, I’ve been here since morning. I don’t think I have anything planned for today other than Stacy and she’s probably not going to be free at the moment anyway. So I might as well hang around a little longer here. After all, it’s comfortable, the beautiful sunlight basking in through the giant circular ceiling, the smell of books captivating me, the fine polished wooden tables, which I’ve always admired along, with the very comfortable armchairs luring me towards them. Now all I need is a nice good book, I skim through the shelves looking for a nice read. I arrive at books about crossbeams, smiling at them, I proceed forward. I don’t feel like reading architecture. Work or anything related to it doesn’t seem appealing. I walk down the spiral staircase and into the fiction book area, the place is draped completely in Harry Potter decorations, hyping up the last book. I spot the first book which makes me recollect an old memory. Amused, I dwell deeper in, picking up books on the slight chance I see something thought-provoking. I notice an orange poster which is an alternative cover to the last Harry Potter book. It looks familiar, I recall seeing it only a few seconds ago. I dash back to the same aisle and see where I left it. It gets picked up from the other side. I see the person’s hands holding the book. Do I wrestle it out? Am I that kind of person? Yes I am, I set off. I run straight to the beginning of the aisle glimpsing the cover of the book before falling back and landing on the ground, a hand holds out to help me up. I take it and look up to apologize to the person. A very familiar man looks at me with an embarrassed smile. I can do nothing but return it, equally embarrassed but glad all the same. “We really have to stop meeting like this”, says Nick. Somehow I see the both us back at the airport. “Just to refresh, I’m Nick”. Like the last time we had met I simply laugh at his comment. I realize his hand is still out and take it, along with giving it a slight shake. “I gather that you’ve had some experience at handshaking since the last time we met”, he says. I look at him confused. “I think I’ve gotten bad at the small talk since the last time”. He says, I chuckle. “You still seem funny to me.” “I don’t think you ever called me that”, he says, “You did call me charming though.” “I never-“ I start but stop in midsentence, “you know what, sure I did.” “Finally! it only took you, what, six years to admit it.” “Yeah, so are you going to hold my hand for six years to make it even?” I ask him. He looks down and notices what I’m referring to, then releases it. “Sorry about that.” “It’s alright.” The last time I saw him was when he was being thrown out of the club. What’s bothering me is that he was shouting out my name, drunk out of his mind. That’s not the worst of it, I’m worried whether he remembers me pretending not to know him. I’ve felt bad about that but now that I see him in person I don’t know if I should even bring it up, I’ll be surprised if he remembers. I decide to go with a different topic of conversation. “So am I dreaming or is it really Nick standing here with me?” “Nope, not dreaming, it’s Nick here.” “No, I just don’t believe that Nick is actually standing in a Library.” He laughs, ruffling his hair absently. “Yeah, it’s a secret so don’t tell anyone I know.” “My intention was to print this in the newspaper”, I joke. He laughs again. “Wasn’t I the one who made the jokes in our conversations?” “Then by all means do.” “Well, I can’t on the spot”, he says, “It’s too much pressure.” I smile at that. “Quite a crowd here, don’t you think?” he asks motioning around the area. “These aren’t all your friends are they?” “Very funny, subliminally calling me a nerd.” “I don’t have to be subliminal to say that”. He says. I grimace at him. He keeps looking around, is he waiting for this chit chat to end? “What do you keep on looking around for?” I ask intently. “I don’t usually see so many people at the library.” “Usually?” I fixate on the word. He realizes what he let slip. “Are you telling me this isn’t the first time you’ve been here?” He stares around wide eyed, ignoring me. “Don’t know what you’re talking about.” “Oh my god, Nick is a frequent library visitor.” “Shush”, one of the people looks at me angrily. “Sorry”, I whisper, turning back to Nick. “So you were saying.” “Ok fine, I concede.” “I won’t believe it until you say it”, I say joyfully. “Yes, I have been to the library on a number of occasions”, he says through gritted teeth. I laugh, Nick shakes his head but laughs too. “Just when you think you know a person”, I say sarcastically. “Ya, isn’t that the truth?” he smiles. Should I just ask him about it? There’s a chance he gets embarrassed and leaves or worse, if he doesn’t remember it happened and I’ll have to fill him in. “You look a little different since I last saw you”, I say. His eyes go a little wide, I think back at what I said. “Oh”, he says, looking unsure. “Ya, maybe it was just the heat in Oman affecting my vision but you were thinner back then.” “Oh ya I was thinner at the time”, he says relieved. Or am I just assuming it? Perhaps he’s just being normal and is wondering why I’m being so weird. “You look better than before too”, he says, then he lets out a sigh. “You know what Emily, I can’t do this, not when I’ve got this in my hands”. I was right, now we’re going to have to talk through this awkward conversation. Well, at least I get to tell him I’m sorry. “I was wondering when we would talk about it.” “What do we do about it?” “Well let’s tell each other the story.” “You’ve read it?” “Read it?” I repeat. “Yeah, that’s how we met each other”. He says, I don’t recall having a book on me that night. “You were reading?” “Yes, then you came along.” “So you’re telling me you were on the ground looking for a book?” “Well I wasn’t on the ground for long now, was I?” he says, “It was only a few seconds”. I definitely saw him lying on the ground for more than five minutes. “You were down for a few minutes at least.” “No, I dropped it and picked it up the next moment”. He replies positively. So either he was so wasted that he began hallucinating or he’s just making up a very poorly prepared story to save face. “Come on Nick, it’s alright”, I say gently, I should let him know that I don’t think any less of him. “We both know what happened.” “So you did read it then?” he asks me. Fine, I’ll play along if it that’s what gets him talking. “Yes I have.” “I never thought you just read the ending.” “No I read the whole thing perfectly”, I play along. “Well, I just read the ending”. No doubt about that, the state he was in I would be surprised if he was able to piece together something substantial. “So what did you think after you found out?” I ask. “I couldn’t believe it.” “You couldn’t imagine my surprise.” “I was sure someone would die”. He says. I must have missed something, maybe there was a fight. “Was it that bad?” “You know don’t you? I was positive someone would get killed, sure some did.” “What?” “You really are being strange”, he says confusedly, “A bunch of them died but I was actually hoping for the hero’s death.” Does he feel so ashamed at the incident that he contemplated death? “Don’t say that, In any case, fighting a bouncer and getting thrown out has no honor in it”. I say, I don’t know why he’s behaving this way. How can he take any pride from that? “Thrown out for being drunk? What are you talking about?” He asks me and there is such sincerity in his question that I’m sure he really has no idea what I’m saying. “What are you talking about?” I ask him, now genuinely perplexed. “The last Harry Potter book”, he says, holding up the book. I simply stare from the book to Nick. Of course, he must have been reading it and dropped it. I completely forgot why I was running, in my excitement at seeing Nick. In retrospect I can see what the misunderstanding was about, he thought I was discussing the end of the book the whole time. Nick looks at me with a mixture of amusement and concern. “Uh, you still with me?” he asks, waving his hand in front of my eyes. I smile wider, I guess I should apologize. “How did you get that?” I ask him, out loud. A few people look at us grumpily. “Are you trying to get us killed?” He asks me. “Let’s keep the news that Harry killed Voldemort a secret for now.” One person definitely heard us “What!?” the person jumps in a mini shout. An uproar of fans crowd us asking questions. Nick tugs me away from the pack of wolves. I lead him over to a secluded spot of desks, turning to him with a sarcastically accusing expression. “Ok, that time it was me”, he says. The next second we both burst into uncontrollable laughter. We subside for a while but looking at each other for a second time we start over again. “So, how many times did that happen to you here at the library?” He asks me amusingly. “Definitely a first”, I say, wiping my eyes. “Don’t forget though, you owe me an explanation.” “About what?” “How you got the book.” “If you must know”, he says, “After the last part came out I decided I would camp out to get this book.” “You were going to camp out?” I ask in disbelief, “Wow, you really did go crazy over this book.” “Yeah, well, I have you to blame for that”, he says, “But I guess I should’ve brought a friend along with me because after some hours went by I started feeling, how do I put it subtly, queasy…” “I don’t need to hear that part”, I say. “Yeah so you get the point, so I had a real dilemma.” “I remember seeing the camp out, I had no idea you were one of them. In fact they’re still out there.” “I guess we were going to run into each other sooner or later, back to the story, I was outside on the street, called my friend to pick me up, he has the worst luck with women but somehow he’s always with one whenever I need him. One of the guys who works here approached me whispering he could get me the book. It was like some top secret meeting between two agents only in this scenario it was two sad guys talking about a book.” He says. I giggle. “How could he do that?” “He was one of the people who stocked the book in the store and snuck one out. I gave him the money and he told me where he planted it. I thought of you at the time, how you told me it wasn’t any fun to read the ending first so I decided to read it all through”. “You did that?” “No, I couldn’t help it, I just had to read the ending”, he says, my smile droops down in annoyance. “A few people started snooping in that aisle so I hid it and decided to come in today to read the rest. I saw someone and ran for it, then I bumped into…” “Me”, I finish for him. “Pretty good plan I have to say.” “And I would’ve gotten away with it too, if it hadn’t been for you and those meddling bookworms.” “Easy there buddy, you’re one of those bookworms, too”, I remind him. “That’s the worst part.” “So have you read the whole book yet?” “Not even close, just a little in the beginning, then the end”, he says, “I was sure that Snape was a good guy the whole time… oops”. He adds in the end as he realizes he’s given another important element away to me.” “Nick”, I say crossly, he holds his hands up apologetically. “Sorry.” “I would’ve believed you if you hadn’t done this before but somehow you always ruin the books for me.” “Well you have the weird habit of meeting me around the time a new book comes out”, he says defensively. “Well that’s not going to happen again.” “So you plan on keeping me in your life this time?” he asks, looking pleased. “Actually, I was going to say it’s not going to happen again because this is the last book.” “Oh, right”, he seems embarrassed. “In any case, what do you mean I plan to keep you this time?” “Let’s refresh”, he says, “We met six years ago and this is the third time we’ve had any interaction since then.” “No, what I meant was you’re implying that I didn’t keep in touch”, I clarify, “When in fact it was you”. He opens his mouth at once to argue that but stops. I’m sure he was about to bring up the club but saying so would mean talking about it. Now’s my chance. “So?” I press on but the librarian returns. “Please ma’am”, he says snappily. “You are disturbing everyone.” “Fine, we’ll leave”, Nick says. The librarian walks behind us until we get to the door which he promptly closes as we step out. “He’s not supposed to do that”, I say. “Yeah, I didn’t care for the way he was talking to you.” “No, he’s not supposed to close the door. All doors should stay open, that’s the library’s rule.” “Ok”, Nick says, clearly not trying to judge me. “I get it that you’re here a lot so is there a place where we won’t disturb anyone?” “The library’s coffee shop.” “This place has a coffee shop?” He asks in amazement. “Yes, it’s very popular.” “You don’t say, then lead the way”. I walk ahead as we make our way through children’s section. “I was sure there would be a place for kids”, Nick comments. “A place to shape up the leaders of the future”, I say with pride. “I really hope that kid eating paper doesn’t turn out to be the future president”, Nick points at the child, a worried librarian hurries over to wrestle the book out the kid’s mouth. “Well, you never know”, I simply say and lead on. Nick walks beside me, studying my face. He can clearly see the joy with which I walk. “So, this is, like, your place isn’t it?” “Ya, I just love it here.” “I can see that. You look so happy.” “I’m always happy where there are books. I don’t expect you have any books at your place”, I say. “Except for the one which you stole from me”. “I bought that fair and square, I was there first and purchased it with my money”, he defends himself. “But you clearly weren’t going to read it.” “Bad news, I have no idea where I kept it so no point talking about it”. He says. “Anyway, what’s it about this place, then? You can keep books at home, too.” “I know but it’s not just about the books here”, I say, many people have asked me this and I don’t feel like telling them why. I’ve only elaborated once before for anyone but I’ll see if he can understand what I mean. “Then what is it?” “You know, when I’m here I feel like I’m at peace. No one can bother me. I can just pick something up and lose myself in it. The quiet of this place makes me feel like I’m safe somehow. And then there’s the fact that you get to see so many different people and actually make out how they are just by their choice of books. It’s fascinating to have so much going on in such a quiet place. But I don’t expect anyone to get it though. It’s one of my things, the quietness blocks out the pressures of life for me.” Nick stares at me with his peculiar expression. I wait for one of his sarcastic remarks. “That’s nice”, he says simply. I didn’t expect that. “That’s it? No poking fun at the book nerd?” “No, it’s obvious that it means a lot to you because of the way you just told me and I respect that.” “That’s nice of you”, I say, feeling touched. “I told it to someone before and they made fun of me, I figured you would, too.” “Nah, that someone was a jerk to overlook how much you clearly care.” We arrive at the coffee shop. Although not my favorite, I enjoy bringing work here while refreshing myself with some coffee. “For a place where people can talk, this place isn’t exactly buzzing.” Nick observes. “That’s because we’re still in a library”, I remind him. “But we can still talk a bit louder than before”. We take a seat by the window. This is the place where I sit whenever I’m here. I get a panoramic view of the city. “Look, the people camping out for the book”, Nick brandishes the book to them. “All they want is here in my hands, I kind of enjoy this sense of power.” “Now I’m hoping you don’t turn out to be a future president”, I joke. “So? You were implying that it was because of me that we didn’t stay in touch”, I repeat from before. He doesn’t answer right way, instead, looking out of the window for a few moments. “Ok fine, it was my fault.” So he’s willing to admit defeat than to pursue the topic but I’ve decided I’m going to let it out in the open but he speaks first. “Didn’t you wonder why though?” I guess he’s asking me why he was drunk that night. “Yes I did”.” “Just bad luck.” “What happened?” I ask, intrigued. “I accidently erased it”. He says. Erased what? It dawns on me that he’s referring to when I gave him my cell phone number. Here I was wondering why he was at the club that night when the reason I was so disappointed in him was that he wasn’t supposed to be in the country. “So you erased it?” “Yeah, it was really stupid.” “I’m going to need more than ‘really stupid’”. I tell him. The anger I felt two years ago over him for not calling me returns but I hold it back. How could he have simply erased it? “I left with Habib, then what happened?” “Habib”, Nick says with a laugh, “Can’t believe how attached you got to him.” “You liked him too by what I remember.” “Ya, he was funny”, he says, I smile in spite of my curiosity and slight anger. Our cab driver that day was a person to remember. “Now back to the number”, I remind him. “Like I said, I accidently erased it.” “How can you accidently erase a number from your contact list?” “Let me finish”, Nick says, I hold back, maybe I am getting a bit excited. “I saw you leave then went back to the phone to save your number, which is when I got a call.” “Who was it then?” I ask. Nick looks hesitant to answer the question, “Well?” “Remember the girlfriend we talked about?” He asks, how could I forget the girl who seemed to be dragging him along on a stick. Wait a minute… “Her?” I ask. Nick nods. I have a feeling what followed wasn’t good, “What did she say?” If he thinks I’m not interested in this then he’s sorely mistaken, I’d like to know exactly what he did. “I picked it up without looking at the number thinking it was my cousin but it turned out to be Leah”. “Leah? That’s her name?” “Oh that’s right, I never mentioned it that day, did I?” Nick says comprehendingly. “Funny how we do that, we talk about so many things but leave out some important details.” “Moving on”, I say impatiently waving my hand forward. “Sorry, Leah called, you can imagine my reaction.” “I’d like to believe you told her it was over and that you didn’t deserve to be treated that way.” “You believe correct”, Nick says with pride but I sense that’s not how things ended. “And?” I query on. “Anyway, it didn’t end there”, he says, brushing his hair nervously. “I had a feeling.” “Hey, I did what you wanted me to do.” “And I’m proud of you so far”, I say, “But what did she call for?” “She wanted to tell me she was flattered I did it for her.” “Go to Muscat? But you didn’t go for her, did you?” I ask, but Nick looks sheepish. “You did?” I ask, astonished, “You went just to prove it to her?” “No, no”, Nick says eagerly, “When she left me I was so angry that I just wanted to get away from everything, my dad told me about my cousin abroad and the job opportunities and I probably just did to get back at her.” This new piece of information definitely is surprising, the impressiveness I felt towards him two years ago for taking the opportunity to work abroad feels much less now but then again it’s not my place to judge. It’s his life and I shouldn’t make him feel like he’s a failure. “Sounds pretty pathetic, doesn’t it?” Nick asks disappointedly. “Well I don’t really like it but I’m not one to judge”, I voice my thoughts. “I’m not perfect either and besides, if I judged you for something you did, it wouldn’t make my any better than her.” “Thank you”, Nick says sincerely, “So I don’t need to tell you further.” “I still want to know the rest, though.” “Trust me, you don’t want to know”, He looks dismayed. “You don’t feel like judging me now but once you hear more you’re going to eat up your words.” “I won’t”, I assure him. Nick sighs and continues. “She said she was really proud of me for being more responsible. That was one of the things she used to nag about.” “But she was the one who made you do all those irresponsible things.” “I told her that. She asked me to come online so we could talk about what went wrong.” “I hope dumping you without telling you was one of the things you addressed.” “Yeah I told her that, we had a video chat, she wanted to show me how depressed she became without me.” “So what did you guys talk about?” “Pretty much everything that had gone wrong”, Nick says, “She started out by telling me her side of the story, apparently she’d gone back and the network connections over there had crashed because of some tornado. She told me the other guy had tried to ask her out again.” “So she rebuffed him for you?” “No, she tried dating him first, in the month and a half we hadn’t spoken. She thought he was this considerate guy who really valued her so she’d gotten trapped in his charms. I found it pretty hard to believe at the time.” “Actually I think there’s a chance that could’ve happened, I know someone who actually ran away from home because of something like this.” “Ok, like I said, at the time, but I’m getting ahead of myself. So they both dated for a while but apparently that guy turned out to be a really big player. The whole time they were together he was actually seeing two other girls”. Nick says with delight. “You seem pretty sprightly about it”, I observe. “Well, it was pretty vindicating when she told me all that, I had told her repeatedly how he wasn’t what she thought he was, so to be proven right felt pretty good.” “I’m guessing she called you to get you back after he dumped her?” “Right and wrong”, Nick says, “She did call to get me back but she was the one who dumped him.” “And the getting back together with you part?” “About that, she tried getting in touch with me but couldn’t because of the tornado, finally, she asked my parents for my number.” “That’s surprising, I thought your mom hated her.” “She does, it was my dad who told her, she tricked him somehow. I went online that night to talk to her”, he says, “How I felt when she dumped me, how she had been a bad influence on me in college, pretty much whatever you and I talked about earlier that day in the park”. My thoughts go to the park, the beautiful greenery, the chirping birds and the clear blue sky. We had spoken to each other about our life and troubles, I remember how I felt a sort of closeness with him when he told me about his problems, when we both ran up the waterfall… “Listening?” He asks waving his hand in front of my face, I shoot back to the present. “Sorry. You were saying?” “So, I told her all about those things and while I was telling her I felt this peace over myself, I realized what you told me was right and that I didn’t deserve to be treated like that. But I also got pretty intense, started shouting and logged off by telling her we wouldn’t be getting back together.” Nick says in a flourish, and then folds his hands on the table impressively. “I have to say, I’m really proud of you Nick”, I say, feeling happy for him and honored that he took my words into stride but then a thought enters my head. It still doesn’t add up how he ended up on the sidewalk last year, no way was he in that state on random. Something definitely happened, “Wait a minute.” “What now?” Nick asks unconvincingly. “You told me it was pretty pathetic, so something more happened later on.” “I shouldn’t have said that”, Nick says, under his breath. With my enquiring look upon him he relents. “She kept calling me back”, he says meekly, “For the next couple of hours. I had to get some sleep for the interviews but I couldn’t keep on ignoring her, I felt guilty over what I said.” “So?” I ask timidly, slightly taken aback by the intensity with which he described it. “I logged on again. This time she told me her part. I felt angry again at first but she became very emotional. Emily, you wouldn’t believe how she broke down. Seeing her, I felt ashamed I wasn’t able to console her because I was behind a computer.” Nick says sensitively. I’d like to stop him and tell him that this was probably an act she was putting on, that he shouldn’t have believed her but this is a side of Nick I haven’t seen before, the humble way with which he’s speaking, I can’t bring myself to speak. “I couldn’t get angry at her after that. She just looked so helpless, said she wanted to get back together.” “But you were up for a job halfway across the world”, I say, desperately clinging on the last thing that could keep the two of them apart even though I realize this was years ago, I have a feeling I’m not going to like what Nick did. “We talked for the rest of the night. I asked her if she wanted me to get a job there. She told me it was up to me. I couldn’t believe how she changed. She would’ve never said that before.” “So you decided to come back for her?” I ask defeated. “Well, the interviews were horrible if I had to sum them up in one word. I didn’t think I did any good in them. So that night I chatted with Leah again.” “Did you decide to come back before you got any responses?” I ask him, the professional in me doesn’t agree with that. “I thought about it but then I got a call, someone actually thought I was good. They offered me a job. And mind you, this was a good one too.” He says enthusiastically. I would’ve been happy had I been there but it still comes back to him at the club. “But something went wrong then”, I say, guessing what happened next, “You had to choose between Leah and the job.” “Exactly. I was torn, Emily, I spent the whole day walking around the city, visited the park again thinking that I could come up with a resolution like we had a few days before. I wished you were there.” I wish I’d been there too… “I came back and somehow it became clear to me.” “How?” “I saw her, she was asleep, I’d left the computer and the webcam on and she’d been sitting there in front of it the whole time, the whole day. I felt so humbled at her sincerity at that time I just knew I had to come back.” “You passed up on the job”, I say, disappointed. “Yes”, Nick says, not reading my expression, “I told her I was coming back for her.” “Wasn’t your cousin angry?” “He was beside himself and he wasn’t the only one, my mom was livid that I’d turned the job down for Leah, of all people according to her.” Nick says. She is one wise woman I have to say. Even with Nick so emotionally telling me his story, which I admire actually, I never expected him to have so much sensitivity, I feel that it still doesn’t hold much merit considering the state I saw him last year, this story did not have a happy ending. This is it. I can’t beat around the bush anymore. “Nick.” “Yeah?” “You know what I’m going to ask you”, I tell him. He looks behind my shoulder, trying to avoid this topic from the start. “What? You mean what I did after I returned? Well, it just didn’t work out. We didn’t see eye to eye on a few things”. I keep looking at him, his eyes dart between me and the door. “Come on, Nick, just tell me why you were at that club.” I blurt out irritably. Nick stays silent for a few seconds. But his eyes don’t leave me at all during, meanwhile his expression turns from surprised to defiant. Blinking profusely he raises his hand and points at me. “Aha! So you did see me there!” He says loudly. People turn towards us again. “Sorry”, I whisper at them then turn back to Nick. “Would you keep it down?” “Forget that”, Nick says, waving his hand at the people, “You knew I was there.” “Not so loud.” “Would you just say it? You saw me.” “Ok, I’ll tell you”, I say gently, motioning him to calm down. He sinks back in his seat although continues to glare at me. “Well?” He asks, softly this time. “Yes, I saw you there”, I say. He nods at my words and looks around again, this time appearing to process my words. I wait for him to say something. “I wasn’t sure if you did”, he says finally, not looking at me, instead at the coffee table. “I did”, I assure him. “I called out your name.” “I heard you.” “I thought that maybe you didn’t.” “I did”, I repeat. Nick keeps looking away. His reaction was something I didn’t expect, he seems to be hurt at what I did, making me feel ashamed, I have for the past year. How I avoided him and went straight in. I want him to know that I didn’t plan for it to happen that way. “Why didn’t you say anything?” “That’s a good question.” I sigh. He looks at me intently. Did he want to know why I didn’t respond just as much as I wanted to know why he was there? “Probably because of the way you were.” “I surmised as much, oddly enough”. He says. The comment is so obvious, that we actually start laughing for a little while. I shake my head. “But it wasn’t just that”, I tell him, “It was actually a pretty big step for me to go out that night.” “Really?” “Yeah, my friend had been on my case for so long over not going out more and that day I just decided to listen to her for once, so she took me to that club to ‘socialize.’” I say, Nick chuckles. “I know what kind of socializing that is.” “You do, do you?” “Why do you think I was there?” he asks rhetorically. “Now can you please tell me why you were there? I’ve been trying to get past that since I saw you today.” “I have too, I just wasn’t sure whether you saw me or not”, he says, “I don’t know if you noticed but whenever I thought you were about to bring it up I kept looking for a way to get out.” “I did notice that. But why would you want run away instead of talking about it?” “Because it was embarrassing, I’m not exactly proud of it.” “Like I told you before, I’m not one to judge”, I say. Nick looks straight at me now, gratefully. I smile at him. He returns it. “Thanks.” “Anytime, So…” “Yes, why I was there”, he says, “like I said before, it was for ‘socializing’ reasons”. I roll my eyes jokily. “To understand why I was there that particular night I’ll have to tell you what happened. So I came back, turned down the great job for Leah. She had changed, wasn’t bossy anymore, neither did she make me do anything irresponsible. I was happy, it was all really smooth.” “I sense a ‘but’ coming.” “But, she was bit too uninvolved, I mean, she was great and all at first but then it was as if she wasn’t even trying to stay in the relationship, you know, it felt to me like I was the one who was at all interested.” “So what, she didn’t want to do anything?” “Kind of, she was just too detached, for example, I asked her if she wanted to go for a movie she’d just hum in approval, not even asking which one. If I asked her opinion she’d say it was up to me.” “Doesn’t sound like much of a problem to me.” “Ok, that was a bad example. But just think of that manner of hers and apply it to everything. She’d be so mundane. I felt like we’d become an old unhappy couple having dinner table conversations.” “Is that why you went to the club?” “I hadn’t decided to end things”, he says, “After all, I’d left a great job for her and wanted to make it work but then came the real bombshell.” “What?” “She told me that the guy had called her.” “As in that guy, she went back to him?” “No, but she told me she was going to be honest, apparently that guy had also changed just like she had with me. Being honest, she also told me how she felt.” “And how did she feel?” “Trapped, lonely, suffocated, depressed, unhappy, miserable”, Nick says, counting the words in his hands, “I’m just picking the key words out of the conversation.” “That had to be bad.” “Well it wasn’t fun”, he says, “But I couldn’t fault her for it, besides, when she told me, I didn’t want to get into all that again, so I let her go.” “And then you got sad over it so decided to go out and get drunk”, I assume the rest. “I actually thought I was in a satanic cult who wanted to take me to hell”, he says, I can’t help but laugh at that. “Sorry about that.” “No, it’s fine, it is kind of funny actually. I was thrown around so much that night, it’s hard to believe.” “I saw that happen to you twice.” “Actually, it was four times.” “All in all, a pretty bad night.” “I don’t even like clubs. You’re never going to meet the person you marry at a sleazy place like that.” “I feel the exact same way, they make no sense”, I say in agreement, “But you wanted to be a ladies’ man, once.” “Time’s change”, he says, relaxing back in his chair. I feel so much relieved now that we’ve talked about the club incident; it’s like when we met back at the airport, a feeling of lightheartedness. “I meant to ask you, what did you do the day after we met in Muscat?” “What do you want to know?” “I erased the number… I felt bad about it.” “Well, you were pretty preoccupied with the job interviews and Leah at the time.” “But what did you do that day? I just want to know.” “Ok, if you want to, I stayed by the hotel I was in.” “So you waited for my call?” “Yes, I got up in the morning and waited.” “You didn’t have to get up so early”, Nick says embarrassedly. “You had the interviews in the afternoon and it would probably take the whole day so I figured you were going to call in the morning.” “You went for more sightseeing by the afternoon, then?” He asks with slight relief. “No, I didn’t want to be away somewhere else in case you called.” “Then, you waited till the evening?” “No”. I say, Nick gulps. “Don’t tell me you waited all day?” He asks in disbelief, I simply tilt my head to the side in obviousness. He opens his mouth then closes as if looking for the right words. “Oh, I didn’t think- I’m sorry, I thought that maybe you’d just take off.” “It’s fine.” “Really, If I I’d known…” he leaves the sentence unfinished. “It’s not a problem, Nick”, I say gently, it took us so long to finally be comfortable with each other today, I don’t want it to be awkward. “You’re sure?” “Yes.” I say, he sighs in relief. “So you stayed all day in the hotel, huh?” “I went back to the place where we went at night, I thought if you’d misplaced my number, you’d just go back there thinking I’d do the same.” “I should’ve done that.” “Then I went back to the park, there was a small chance you could be there. Poor Habib stayed with me, too, he actually wanted to take me round the city just to look for you”, I continue recollecting all that. “He stayed with you the whole time?” He asks in surprise. “At night I checked out of the hotel and started the rest of the vacation, going around the country”, I say, not really listening to him. “How was it?” he asks, I look down at the coffee table, reminiscing over my vacation, so many beautiful places. Caves, hot springs, valleys. These were some of the places I visited, yet the most prominent was still the first day. “Hey, you keep spacing out?” Nick says. I blink and realize he’s still there. “See, now you’ve gotten me feeling guilty again. Are you sure you’re not mad about it?” “Yes, I’m sure.” “Well you must have been when I didn’t show up.” “Yeah, I kind of was but I knew you had to have a good reason for it.” “I hope you didn’t think about it much for the rest of the trip.” “Don’t worry I didn’t”, I tell him. Although I hide the feelings of abandonment and hurt I felt for the whole day. They had sprung up so unexpectedly I wasn’t sure what to think, just like I had impulsively invited him along for the rest of my Oman trip. I still don’t know why I felt that way and there’s no way I’m about to tell him about it. “You know what, I propose a truce of sorts”, says Nick, “We forget the whole club and the me-not-turning up incident. Agree?” He extends his hand for a shake. I comply. “Truce”, I say, letting go of his hand. “Ok, so now let’s talk about what we’ve been up to, I’ve been talking about myself for too long, I’d like to know about you, Emily. I know it’s useless to ask you about relationships, so let’s skip to work.” “Actually, you’ll be surprised to hear that I do have some news on that front.” “Relationship?” He asks in disbelief, “No way.” “Oh, yes.” His She must be joking. After all, she’s been kind of light headed today. Emily’s quite a story teller herself. She knows how to start one, that’s for sure. Like always she’s made me think a lot more than I usually do. I shake my head and smile stupidly. She observes me, resting her chin on her hand with an amused smile on her face. The sun shines directly on her. For a split second I think of how picturesque she looks at the moment, the next, I shake my head again at the strange thought. She raises her eyebrows, signaling me to come out of my mesmerized state. “You’re lying.” “Am I?” she asks with a smirk. “Yes.” “Fine, I am”. She says but I know she’s just humoring me. “Now you’re lying.” “I thought I was lying before.” “You’ve been lying from the beginning”. “Sure about that?” “I think”. I say, she laughs. “You’re really enjoying yourself, aren’t you?” “I can truthfully say that I am.” “How is it that straightforward Emily’s playing games with me here?” “I’m not, I told it to you straight.” “No, you didn’t”, I argue, “You didn’t say it.” “You wouldn’t let me.” “Then say it.” “What do you want me to say?” “Say, ‘Nick, I have a boyfriend.’” I tell her, then observe her closely for any sign of hesitation but she remains amused at me. “Nick, I have a boyfriend”, she repeats after me. Then it is true, she actually is dating someone? I thought our conversations would always remain one sided on this matter. This is new. “Oh, my dear Emily”, I say jokingly, “So many questions.” “I’m braced for it. I’ve already practiced it in my head, in case I ever ran into you.” “Good. Because I’m going to judge you on your performance.” “I hope I pass.” “Ok, enough with the jokes, now let’s cut to the chase”, I say, “One more time, are you lying?” “I’ll say it again, no I’m not.” “Now, how in the hell did it happen?” “It happened the same night I saw you in the club.” “Is that so?” I ask. “How did you meet him?” “I actually met him before. The day after we met in Muscat.” “What?” “For you to understand how we met, I’ll have to tell you what happened in Muscat.” “I’ve been telling you my story till now, your turn I suppose.” “Ok, I waited for you the whole day but you didn’t show”, she starts while I shift in my seat uncomfortably, “I thought I’d cancel the rest of the trip because after spending the day with you it seemed pretty sad to spend another month alone.” “I left such a lasting impression, didn’t I?” “Sure, if you want to flatter yourself”, she says, humoring me. “How come you didn’t cancel the trip then?” “I was on the way back to the airport with Habib”, she says, “Another guy asked if we could take him to the airport. It was fun, the three of us talked about the country. He also had done some research like I had.” “Sounds like a match made in heaven”, I say sarcastically. “Anyway, I was about to say goodbye to him when he asked me where I planned on going. I just impulsively told him I wanted to go further ahead by road. He told me he was doing the same.” “Didn’t he say he wanted to go to the airport?” “Yes, but after he heard my plans he decided to change his. I liked it”, she says defensively, “It was spontaneous.” “I’m spontaneous”, I point out even though I know it’s beside the point. “So we decided to go on.” “Didn’t Habib have his wife to go back home to?” “That’s what we unfortunately pointed out to him because he freaked out.” “So, what did he do? He couldn’t have dumped you by the side of road”. Emily smiles pointedly. “Yes”, she says, “He had to leave us there.” “I bet the cost must have been outrageous”. “It should have been but as you remember he liked me a lot so he gave me a big discount.” “Should’ve seen that coming. But didn’t it lie on your conscience, talking advantage of him? After all, the poor guy spent two days with you”, I say jokingly. “I did say it to him but he refused, in any case it didn’t matter because the guy I was with paid him, a lot.” “How much?” “I’ll just say a lot”, she says, “You won’t believe me if I told you”, I raise my eyebrows. “That much, huh?” I ask further, “So he left you there.” “Uh huh, I felt bad saying goodbye to him but he had to go. So now we were left standing there with our bags, the road stretched out for miles, we were so thirsty that I started imagining mirages around me.” “Oasis trees?” “Yes, remember the trees and gardens by the roads?” she asks, I nod, “Well, they didn’t look any beautiful when I was walking in killer heat, thirsty out of my mind.” “Why not just wait for another cab?” “There weren’t any, the road was pretty much abandoned except for a few cars here and there.” “You could’ve asked the ‘here and there’ cars for a lift”, I suggest. “Tried that too but people there aren’t too trusting with strangers.” “Seems like quite a situation you were stuck in.” I comment. “You have no idea, so there we were walking along when the guy begins talking again.” “Really chatty guy if you ask me.” “Yeah he was, but it helped. Funnily enough, it was because we were talking that my thirst went away. It distracted me.” “So what did you guys talk about?” “Well it started out by commenting on our situation but then we really went into actual stuff about ourselves, like career and other things, He was pretty nice to talk to.” “And here I always thought we had a special relationship with each other, turns out you do this with everyone”. I say with a sarcastic tone although I actually feel some annoyance over it. “It was either walk in silence in the unforgiving heat or taking your mind off it, so I chose the latter”. “Sure, sure.” “After that, we finally found our way to a gas station where we bought water and got something to eat. I called in another taxi and we were off again.” “You still wanted to go ahead? Even after that?” “Once we got in the car it felt like a good idea.” “So where did you guys go?” “We went to some villages. I took a lot of pictures of the locals, you should’ve seen these places. I’m sure you would’ve loved them, they had all sorts of those antiques you liked”, she says. This makes me think of the marketplace we’d visited, remembering how much I’d been enjoying myself there. “You don’t really have much interest in the architecture bits, do you?” She asks, looking at my expression. “Well, he thought it was fascinating, too.” “I bet he did.” “What’s that supposed to mean?” “No, you continue first, I’ll see if I’ve guessed the ending right.” “Ok, we spent the next few days around the forts, after that, we traveled over to the more natural places like valleys. They were so beautiful, endless mountains filled with hot springs, it was amazing.” She says with enthusiasm, I keep nodding, I want to hear the part about this guy. I know what act he played on her. “So he stayed with you all this time? What reason did he give for that?” “Because he wanted to see the country.” “Sure he did”. I say skeptically. “So one night we camped outside on one of the mountains. I couldn’t sleep, neither could he, so we talked outside. He told me he liked me.” She says. This was one of the oldest tricks in the book. I can’t believe Emily of all people fell for something as shallow as this. “Let me finish for you”, I interrupt her, I’d figured out this guy’s plan from the start, “He told you this was the most beautiful place on Earth but you were the most beautiful thing in the universe. Then he kissed you and you both flew back over here and that’s the story of how you two got together.” I finish triumphantly. I tried hard to hide my disappointment. I just never imagined a person like Emily to be trapped in something like this. “Well, yes and no”, she says. “How is that?” “Yes, he did say pretty much all that you said but you’re wrong about me.” “Oh, so that’s your romance step forward?” I ask her humorously although I’m relieved she didn’t fall for that guy. “You got me thinking of something else.” “Like hooking up?” “Nothing happened, right?” “Story’s not over.” “Oh, what happened after that?” “He didn’t want to be left alone”, she says, “But I told him I wanted to come back, I’d had enough of Oman by then.” “Why?” “I did enjoy it but I knew if I continued on with him he’d try to bring it up again so I came back.” “What did the guy have to say about all that?” “He said if we ever met again he’d like to make up for it. I said okay.” “That’s also a classic trick though, apologize for your mistake so you’re back in the girl’s good books then wait awhile to make the same move again but in his case it was pretty faulty considering you probably never saw him agai-“ I stop before I finish my sentence. Of course. “Wait a minute”, I say before she speaks, “I’ll guess the end now and I’m sure I’ll get it right. So he apologized and you came back, after we had the unfortunate incident at the club, you met him.” “Correct.” “Man, that guy had something good going on with his luck.” I say, “So you hooked up? And this time it has a different meaning”. “Very funny.” “So how come you agreed to him this time?” “Remember I told you it was a big deal for me to be going out that day?” “Because your roommate wanted to?” “No, it wasn’t because of that”, she says with a look of reminiscence, “That night I thought I’d just see what that lifestyle was like and I got a pretty ugly look of it.” I look down with some shame. I hope she’s not referring to my part. “But this guy convinced you otherwise?” “It wasn’t that, I thought of leaving but then I saw you across the street”, she says, I keep my head down, “So I was forced inside. He was with some friends but offered to take me home. I just wanted to get out of there so I accepted. While we were on the way he started talking about the time we spent together. I was about to turn him down again but he asked me the reason why I didn’t date.” “Yes, the reason which I never found out either”, I say, maybe now’s the time she’ll tell me. “So you told him?” “No, I told him I’d go out with him if he never asked me that again”, she says. I feel let down and sort of satisfied at the same time. I guess I feel satisfied she didn’t tell him because she hasn’t told me either, a self-centered thought but I can’t help it and I feel let down because I really want to know why she refuses to tell anyone. “What exactly is the reason that you would rather accept a stranger’s date than tell him?” “There’s no reason, I was just never interested”, she says but I know for sure she’s lying. “So what was the other half of the reason?” “Well, when he asked me out I thought of the time I spent with you”. She says, taking me by surprise. “Me? Why was that?” “I remembered what you said about someone else seeing me for the kind of person I can be”, she says in a rather low voice. Meanwhile the memory of us sitting in the kahwa shop comes back to me where I’d said that to her. At the time I felt I had to say it to her, I can’t exactly recall why I felt so strongly about it though. I’ve never brought significant change in someone before. I look at Emily fondling with the side of the table, this must have been something of a profound moment for her. “So, that sealed the deal with him, huh?” “Pretty much.” “Wow, I never thought I’d see this day”, I say, “Kind of unsettling.” “It’s not like it’s the biggest surprise of the year.” “It’s not. It’s the biggest surprise of the decade.” “Can we move on from this topic now?” I could ask her how things are with him at the moment but I don’t want to look like I’m too interested in her personal life. It’s a big step for her to even tell me about her relationships, somehow I’d thought if she ever did get a boyfriend she would’ve kept him a secret. I’m glad that all the confusion’s been lifted from the past couple of years. I know now that she did see me at the club and it was natural of her to walk away. I’m glad she didn’t approach me. I would’ve been ashamed about it the next day. It’s a relief that I was able to tell her the reason I didn’t meet her in Muscat couple years ago. It always made me feel uneasy wondering about how disappointed Emily must’ve felt at me standing her up. At least now, I know that because of it that she was able to meet this guy she’s dating. It all worked out. “So now that we’ve got all that out of the way, tell me what are you up to now, Nick?” “How about you tell me yours?” “I asked you first.” “Yeah, but my part’s not going to take long, so why don’t you go on?” “What do you want to know?” “The last time we spoke was when we’d just graduated and you were going to start looking for a job”, I recall, “What’s up there? I’m sure you’ve gotten one.” “Actually, I don’t at the moment”. She says embarrassedly. Knowing Emily, she’s probably feeling inadequate without any work in her life but those sorts of things don’t bother me. I’ll have to be careful with what I say to her, she was pretty sensitive when it came to studies and I can only imagine she feels the same towards work, if not more. “How come?” “I was working just about two weeks ago but I quit.” “Not a good enough place for you?” “It was such a dead end job, you have no idea.” “Explain and I’ll get the idea.” “I’ll just summarize my work for you”, she says rather intensely, “I went to work at around 7, the next four hours I’d be doing chores for people.” “Well it’s pretty common to make the fresh graduate do errands for the senior people.” “I wouldn’t have minded it as much if they weren’t making me go to their houses to pick up their laundry or work for their wives. I had to babysit three kids once and that too in the office. I was blamed for all the mess those kids did.” She tells me with increasing passion, I think she’s held this in for a while. “But the final straw came when I was finally given something worthwhile, or so I thought.” “What happened?” “I was told it was related to architecture, my heart leapt in my throat. Finally! But as it turned out I had to transport buckets of paint over on the other side of the city to construction workers.” I almost burst out laughing at this, barely keeping my composure, I nod along with a look understanding and listen to her continue. “So that’s when you quit?” “Not right then, I did transport them but just when they were being lifted up on the escalating platform, one of the workers working on a crossbeam accidently bumped his hand on them and…well you can guess the rest.” “No”, I say in disbelief, “They didn’t.” “I went back into work and quit.” “Did you go home and change first?” “Of course I did.” “You should’ve gone straight to the office, the sight of you dripping wet with paint would’ve had a greater effect”. I say, she looks at me with a look of amused hatred and I burst out laughing this time. As much as I feel bad for her over this, it is a very funny story. She also smiles, seeing me laugh. “Sorry, it’s not funny, but you were right to quit.” “I’m glad at least you got a good laugh at my misery”, she says sarcastically. “I’m just joking”, I say, “So, what’s the next big plan for our budding architect?” “I did realize something from the incident.” “And is that to not stand under paint being lifted up?” “You know what, you just suck.” “Sorry, what was it?” I ask, she looks at me with doubt but continues. “I think it’s better if I show you.” “Is it somewhere here in this coffee shop?” “No, it’s in the library”, she says standing up, “Come on.” We make our way back through the many aisles, Emily looks like she’s back at peace, about the only thing I’ve enjoyed in this library is looking at her. The way she gets so sprightly over these books is fun to watch, I can see the enthusiasm by which she makes her steps and I doubt she even realizes she has this look of glee on her face. Her explanation over her fondness was clearly straight from her heart and I was impressed how she told me about it so honestly, I can’t think of any place which makes me this relaxed, maybe I should find one. The idea of coming here regularly comes to my thoughts, it feels pretty appealing. Maybe she could get me all peaceful like she is right now. What am I even thinking about? We finally stop in the middle of one of the aisles and Emily takes a book out from the rack. “Here’s what I’ll focus on”, she says, I look at the title of the page. That reminds me of something. “Crossbeams?” “Yeah.” “And what do you plan on doing with them? Not have workers sit on them and knock down paint?” “Very funny, after the paint fell on me I realized that it was a pretty hazardous location. So I decided to work on crossbeams to make them flatter to occupy more space in the foundation of the building and enhance worker protection.” “Wow, you made a lot of boring stuff sound very interesting.” “Really?” “Absolutely, I bet you’d make a great teacher. Well, I hope it gets you somewhere, you certainly have the tenacity for it”. I say meaningfully, “And you made it sound pretty professional so I’m guessing you know what you’re doing which is a little more than what I can say for myself.” “Where are you working at the moment?” “I’m not currently employed, either”. At least it’s not as embarrassing as it would’ve been had Emily been employed. “Did you quit like me?” She asks excitedly. “No, I’d have to have a job to quit.” “Huh? Are you saying you haven’t had a job since leaving college?” “It sounds like that… and it is.” “Oh”, she says, it still is embarrassing, I’ve had so many people give me the awkward ‘I’m sorry I asked’ look. “Yeah, I know I’m a loser.” “No, I don’t think that”, she says, “I just figured since you had the job landed in Muscat you would’ve been able to get one here easily.” “I thought the same but turns out I was wrong.” “So what have you been doing the last couple of years?” “I’ve looked at a few jobs but nothing materialized but I do have one thing.” “You seem pretty optimistic.” “I sort of am”, which is true, hopefully I’ll be well off soon. “Nothing’s set in stone at the moment so I don’t think there’s any point in telling you right now.” “You’re expecting someone to hire you soon?” “Yeah.” “Judging by the look on your face you don’t seem like wanting to continue talking about this”, she says. So she caught up, did she?” “Well, it’s not like I don’t enjoy feeling like a real loser but I think we should change the topic”, I say, not bothering with any pretense. “Don’t worry, you have a loser who was dripping in paint right next to you if it makes you feel any better.” “That does, actually”. I say, she hits me lightly on the arm. We casually move away from the aisle and walk into another annex, the children’s section. The place is still almost full. These kids seem to be enjoying in around the same way Emily is. I glance over at her, she doesn’t notice me, instead looking at the children with a very warm expression, she lightly pats a girl reading a story book as we stroll along which brings a recollection to me. “Oh yeah, how’s your niece?” I ask her, she turns towards me, her expression still warm perhaps thinking of the girl. “You remember her?” “Why wouldn’t I? Last time you told me she was the one who made you like kids and judging by the way you just looked at that one I think the feeling still stands.” “Yes it does”, she says, smiling, “She just turned five. Hard to believe it’s been that long.” “Grow up fast, don’t they?” “Seems like yesterday she was born”, she says with a faraway look, “She just started kindergarten, one of the children in her class was mean to her and I remember she came running over to me asking why he was like that.” “And what did you say?” “She told me she’d taken one of his crayons which he didn’t want to share.” “I know those types of kids, they’re called jocks in high school”, I say, “So what was your suggestion?” “I told her to share her lunch with him and the boy would change.” “Did he?” “Yes he did, she came back telling me he wanted to share his crayons because she shared her lunch with him”, she says with a laugh. “Cute. Kids, they’re so simple”, I say, “One second they’re angry, the next, best friends. Sometimes I think we should think like them, you know, just start over like nothing happened.” “It does sound like a simple life.” “Doesn’t it? It would be so much simpler if we could just not hold so many grudges or judgments over someone.” “So you live by that rule?” “I try to.” “So, was accepting Leah’s apology part of it?” “Truth is, I didn’t think of it like that”, I consider her words, “But for future reference I could say it that way”. “That’s cheating.” “Well it’s just between you and me”, I wink at her. We both stand over by the entrance of the annex looking at the children. There are so many mothers here with their kids, we’re the odd ones out. Emily helps one boy by reaching for a book his tiny hands couldn’t reach. The boy gives her a small hug and runs over to sit on some beanbag chairs. I chuckle while Emily walks back. “What’s so funny?” “Nothing, I like how you’re so good with kids. That’s all.” “Thanks, I guess.” “I’m just wondering how you’re going to be with your kids.” “You’ve already pictured me as a mom?” “I do that with most people”, I say then realize that didn’t come out right, “That sounds wrong, what I mean is that I sometimes think what a certain person would be like with their own children. It’s just something that pops in my head.” “Interesting, so what’s my life like in the future, in your head?” “Well, you’re a mother of two girls. And you raise them along with your career as an owner of an architecture firm. Your technique involves careful listening and a stern but gentle hand with discipline. With the money your husband makes you guys frequently go around the world visiting many places and your daughters want to be just like you when they grow up.” “Wow, pretty descriptive for a pop up thought”, she says amused. It was. I just went along with whatever came in my head. “Sounds good, doesn’t it?” “Yes, but I’d like a son too.” “Ok we’ll add another one.” “We?” She asks with a peculiar expression. “As in, let’s add one more imaginary kid for you”, I clarify quickly. “Oh”, she says, her expression fading. “So, three kids huh?” I ask, “You seem to have thought it up yourself.” “Actually, I don’t want any kids. I was playing along”, she says, “I don’t see myself settling down with children, truthfully, at the moment I’m just focusing on work.” “This game’s supposed to be for the future.” “Even then, I don’t know, I’ll think about it when I have to.” “Wow, that sounds like a bummer”, I say, “I thought you’d be a good mother seeing how you’re with your niece and these kids.” “It’s different when it’s your own.” “I figure it’ll be better.” “Oh, so Nick wants to be a father? I remember you telling me that before. So it still stands?” “Yup, when the time comes I’m going to have my family car, with a family in it.” “Well, here’s hoping you get that someday.” “And here’s hoping you change your opinion someday.” “Hey, I may not want kids but I’ll still have that husband you mentioned.” “Ah, so something has changed after all, so you think you’ll be getting married?” “I suppose I could, down the road.” “Well I’ve got my hopes on it”, I say, “Because I maintain that you’ll be a good mother and a good wife too.” “You really think so?” she asks, looking intrigued at my comment. “I do”, I confirm, “Things have changed with you.” “Some things have changed, that’s for sure.” “That guy from Oman change your outlook over the whole thing?” I ask, she opens her mouth but closes it again, after a second she speaks again. “That, and a few other things.” “Hopefully the ‘other things’ keep working their magic over you.” “Yeah”, she says with the same peculiar expression, “Hopefully.” She continues looking at me. I smile which she returns. I look behind her shoulder at the kids to fill in this silence, and then back at her to see her still smiling. I smile again, my head getting devoid of thought as I return her gaze. The sunlight shines on her face like it had at the coffee shop. Another picturesque moment and with the way she’s smiling I regret not having my camera with me right now. I shake my head and straighten myself up to end this strange but surprisingly not awkward silence. She responds in the same way and has a trace of embarrassment on her face. “Umm, so you want to stay here or look around more”, she says clearing her throat. “Sure, let’s have a look around.” She takes off ahead of me, I look back before leaving. Those kids remain happily in their beanbag chairs, if I ever do have kids, this wouldn’t be a bad place to bring them once in a while. I walk ahead to join Emily again, she seems to be avoiding looking at me. “What’s wrong?” I ask, “Did I say too much or something?” “No”, she turns swiftly, looking at me now as we continue walking, “You just made me think.” “Sorry, I can’t believe I did that”. I apologize sarcastically. She pushes me away lightly. “By the way, where is it that you’re taking me now?” “I’m just moving along, I doubt you’ve seen this part of the library.” “I bet you know more places here than the people who work here.” “Maybe”, she says, playing along, we move up a flight of stairs. She thinks otherwise but I’ve been here before. We approach the top landing of the spiraling staircase. To our left a sign reads ‘Electronic Library’. “They’ve set up lots of computers. They take your card and top it up with hours which you pay for.” “I know”, I tell her. She looks at me surprised. “How?” “Because I’ve been here before.” “I thought you just came here for the book.” “I waited for my friend to pick me up I came here, found out about the internet so I got a card.” I hold up the card which I’d gotten few days back. “You know more than I would’ve thought.” “You’ll find I’m full of surprises”, I joke. “So you want to go in?” “Do you? I was just here a while ago, before I met you, actually.” “Let’s go in for a minute, I want to top up my card. I used it up and it closed in the middle of my session.” “Fine, I wanted to check my messenger, anyway.” She says as we move into this part of the library, “I was talking to a friend I made online.” “So you’re trying online dating now?” “Like I said. A friend”, she walks away, I turn over to the man at the counter. “It’ll just take a second”, he say, taking my card, “Seconds up!” He surprises me, making me jump. He laughs at my reaction and goes back to his work. I glance back to see Emily laughing, seems like she’s enjoying the situation I’m in, she hasn’t even started her session yet. I turn back toward the counter. “I’m back”, he surprises me again. “You’re just too funny.” “Uh, thanks again”, I say, taking my card back. “You should have just enough time now, I added 15 minutes free of charge”, he says with a smile. I return it hastily which satisfies him and I awkwardly walk away. I approach Emily who had still been watching me with amusement. “I see you made a friend.” “Laugh all you want, I don’t see you with 15 minutes of extra time.” “What? I’ve been coming here forever and I haven’t even gotten 15 seconds.” “Well, you lack the charm that I possess.” “Maybe you’re right, if it all works out I could be in attendance for your wedding?” “What?” I ask, astonished. “So you aren’t telling people yet?” she asks, “Don’t worry, I’ll keep the love story between you and the librarian a secret for now.” “Oh, that’s what you meant”, I say, getting her joke. Then I actually get it, “Very funny”, I say with a grimace. “I’ve been known to be funny from time to time.” “So are you being funny now? I can’t tell”, I say, it’s her time to grimace. “Anyway, I want to see you chatting with your internet friend.” “Why don’t you log in yourself?” “The computer next to you is occupied”, I point out. “I thought the whole point of using the computers was to sit together.” “I thought the point was to use the computers. I just have to check something first”, she logs in for her session. “You look for an unoccupied computer till then.” “I really don’t think I’ll be able to find any computer.” “Fine, then go talk to your buddy till I finish up.” “Can I just stand here with you?” “Ok, but they don’t generally allow that.” “Well the guy’s supposed to be my buddy so he’ll make an exception”. I say, she turns to me before typing her email address. “Do you mind?” “What? Scared I’ll hack into your account?” “I wasn’t. I am, now.” “Could’ve at least typed in your email before turning to me”, I say looking away, “Or do you want to hide that, too?” I add. She types in her details and enters. A small window opens showing her offline messages but something else catches my eye before that. “Hey, what are you doing?” She asks, but I ignore her. I minimize the offline message window which was blocking the username and confirm it. “You’re arch82?!” I ask loudly, everyone turn their heads toward us. It takes me a few seconds to notice their stares. I hunch down and repeat it with a whisper, “You’re arch82?” “How do you know that?” “I’m going to go on a limb and guess that you have someone named Joe79.” “How-?” she stops as it dawns on her, “You’re Joe79?” “Looks like the evil mastermind has found you after all. Want to talk more about crossbeams?” “You were online here today?” She asks, I open my mouth to answer her when I hear a hissing sound from behind me, and see the face of the counter guy right next to mine. “Sorry but you can’t talk at all here.” “Ok”, I say and turn back to Emily, “So log out and we’ll go outside?” I finish my sentence when I hear another hissing sound and his hand again. “Actually you can’t log out right now, you see, we’ve installed an upgrade which refrains you from doing so for the first ten minutes.” “You know what, Jim, I’ll take my chances and come back to log off”, Emily says, getting up. Finally we’ll get out of here, but then I hear the hissing sound again. I swivel back. “Yes?” I ask, trying to sound as patient as possible. “You do realize your hours will be docked away because of inactivity”, he says, I clench my fist in pocket. Emily looks at me for any suggestions, she has a ghost of a smile, I get the feeling she understands my annoyance. I spin back to face the man. “Jim, is it? I hope I don’t sound crass or anything, but could you stop beating around the bush and just tell us what we can do?” He looks taken aback, I glance at Emily, she seems nervous too, I hope he doesn’t ban us from here, I really don’t care much about that possibility but Emily sure would. “Sorry for the holdup, sir”, he says quietly but without the cheerful tone, “I would recommend you have an internet chat if you really need to until she’s able to log out.” He leaves, I turn back to Emily. “That could’ve been worse.” “Aw, but I think you hurt his feelings.” “He’s a big boy, he’ll get over it”, I say then shake my head remembering what we were talking about. “So, I’m actually looking at arch82, am I?” “So, joe79, how about it?” She nods and smiles. “He gave a good suggestion. We could have a chat instead of going outside.” “I see an opening, see you online in a few moments, arch82.” I sprint over to the spot and login on my MSN account. Username- Joe79, password- Mikey. Funnily enough, I hadn’t expected to chat with arch82 or Emily when I walked into the library today, even more unexpected was the fact that they’re both the same person. I move to see Emily who’s doing the same on the opposite side of the library, she smiles and I do as well. I move back in open the chat window. Joe79: Hello Emily :p arch82: Hi there  Nick Joe79: Weren’t we supposed to not know each others names? Now that I think about it though I really should have figured it out it was u before Because ur username stands for architect 1982 right? arch82: There could be thousands of architects born in 1982 Joe79: But ur the only one who would talk so much about crossbeams :P Plus u even showed me a book on crossbeams a little while ago that should have been my second clue I should have had more fun with u instead of telling u who I was arch82: Ya I never would’ve found out it was you if you hadn’t Joe79: Damn u past Nick arch82: Well present Nick I have a question for you, why is your username someone else’s? Joe79: Because I really am an evil mastermind and using my real name is too risky? arch82: You’re as lame on the internet as you are face to face Joe79: Let me ask u miss sophisticated Why do u use perfect punctuation while chatting? arch82: Because that’s the way you’re supposed to write Joe79: Yeah on your thesis or something but not while ur chatting with ur friend arch82: Maybe the friend should learn something and work on his spelling ;) So tell me now, why do you have your username as Joe? Joe79: Fine if u must know its my brothers name arch82: oh yeah your older brother. You’ve never really told me about him except that he used to climb on mountains. I know your younger brother Michael Joe79: I don’t generally bring up my brothers during conversations u know arch82: Well you should I’d like to know more about your family Joe79: U like to get familiar real fast don’t u? arch82: I don’t think 6 years counts as fast I’m still finding it hard to believe that you’re actually Nick. I’ve been talking to you and didn’t realize it Joe79: Me either But then again we didn’t talk about anything personal just random crap arch82: That’s true But wait Just today you did share something personal and that it was about a girl Joe79: True that but u know now what was bothering me arch82: Leah. You went offline in the middle of the chat of course that was because your time expired Joe79: We spent the entire day getting our stories straight :P arch82: And to think if we’d told each other our names right from the beginning we could’ve saved so much time Jeo79: That makes us sound stupid lets not think about that arch82: At least I was smart enough to point it out Joe79: Yes so smart to figure out how stupid u were before ;) BTW now that we know about each other how about changing ur profile pic? Not that I don’t like looking at a building construction arch82: ok but it applies to you too because I’m not exactly a fan of… what is that pic exactly Joe79: Nothing, I’ll change it now arch82: OMG you actually put HP7 as your pic? You’ve become even more obsessed than me Joe79: Lets please move on I told u the ending wasn’t that enough for u? arch82: So tell me Nick did it bring tears to your eyes when Harry survived? Joe79: Just so I know how long can I expect ur mocking to last? arch82: It comes and goes I would expect it anytime if I were you Joe79: Moving on I see uve changed ur pic… who’s that with u in it? arch82: That’s my friend Stacy Joe79: What? You have other friends? I thought it was only me and that Omani girl in your college arch82: I see you remember her, and yes I do have other friends. Stacy was one of them who saw you at the club. I’ll be sure to tell her the drunken slob turned out to be my friend Nick ;) Joe79: And thus the mocking continues… arch82: Hey you walked into that one Joe79: I didn’t really see where I was going whatsur friends story? arch82: What do you mean ‘her story’? Are you asking me to set her up for you? Joe79: What gave me away? :P arch82: Seriously? You want me to fix the two of you up just because you saw her picture? Joe79: Is there anything wrong with that? its a guy reflex, u see a good looking girl and u wanna know their backstory arch82: Is that why you take such interest with my stories? Joe79: Awww is that what uve been thinking? arch82: You really are a jerk Joe79: Im just kidding. I was just curious who that girl is thats all arch82: even if you were interested in her (which I think you totally are) you wouldn’t be able to do anything Joe79: Please dont poke the dragon If ur laying out a challenge Ill be happy to prove u wrong arch82: but I just think her 6’4 boyfriend will have some disagreement with you Joe79: Then again I have been known to overestimate myself occasionally, let’s just put this matter aside :P So thats her story then huh? arch82: I could tell you so many stories about her. She used to be this huge party girl who just didn’t settle down even for a second. I used to ask her to take it easy but according to her she didn’t know how to Anyway she said she could never see herself committing to someone and the next thing you know… Joe79 Bam! She got caught by some guy and hes not gonna let go arch82: Yup but I’m really happy for her. She’s in Europe at the moment and having the best time of her life Joe79: Aah young love! arch82 says Sure. Even my friend from Oman got married, if I haven’t mentioned that already Joe79 says No u didnt… interesting, with all these people moving forward does it make u wanna do the same with ur boyfriend? arch82 says Maybe it would’ve if I had one Joe79 says Well u dodont u? arch82: I didn’t exactly elaborate where we were at the moment Joe79: So you broke up? Should’ve mentioned that earlier don’t you think? arch82: Look at you, the surprise is making you work on your grammar Joe79: Seriously though, Emily. Are u fine about it all? Wannaeleaborate? arch82: No, not right now. I don’t feel like going into all of that at the moment Joe79: Ok but whenever your ready. Just remember. Ill probably wont be there for u when u want to talk :P arch82: As I expect you not to be ;) Joe79: Just Kidding!! So how did it feel like to be in a break up? arch82: Well it wasn’t fun but I did learn a lot Joe79: U know I always hear people say that but I never get how u supposed to learn something from a relationship arch82: Well I learnt a pretty important life lesson. It’s not much but I just figured out that I want from someone in life isn’t financial security, feeling safe, or even someone who has just about everything perfect in him Joe79: uve ruled out just about anyone arch82: I have more to say… What I want from someone else isn’t all those things. What I want is for him to make me want to do what I can never see myself doing. To make me feel that drawn to him that I don’t care where we are, how we live, what he does, just to make me want to be with him regardless of anything that happens. You know what I mean? I take a pause and pull back from the screen. That’s closer than I’ve ever gotten with her before. This turn to seriousness has taken me aback just a bit. I glance out and make an unsure face at her which she responds with amusement, I nudge my head and smile back. She motions towards the screen and disappears behind hers, I notice a small window, not this again, reminders from my messenger to change my email because someone’s been trying to login my account from Brazil. I’ll get to that later. Joe79: Kind of, u want to feel so drawn to him that u would be able to jump on a plane just to meet him? arch82: Yes, exactly like that but much more, I want to be one of those people who would just take the leap and for once not think about every single thing I do Joe79: Interesting… To be honest reading ur word made me think as well. It would be nice to feel that way but honestly I dont think I see myself feeling that way arch82: You don’t? I thought you would for sure Joe79: I guess I did before but Ive learnt that sometimes u just have to make do with what u have arch82: I suppose that’s one way of looking at things but for me I’m going to hold out for when I feel just like I told you Joe79: Its a good thought and u know what I really hope u get that arch82: I hope you do too because I kind of like the optimistic happy go lucky Nick  Joe79: I do too :P and as for Emily I can take both the normal and the crazy one ;) arch82: Well she appreciates it Joe79: U know what we’re at it again another one of our deep moments I say we put an end to it. After all we’re at the library the ‘coolest and happiest place to be’ ;) arch82: Don’t think I didn’t catch the sarcasm even though you’re behind a computer screen Joe79: Well….:P arch82: Very mature response Joe79: :P arch82: Ur really going with that? Joe79: Maybe :P arch82: Fine.. XP Joe79: :D arch82: ;P Joe79: XD XP :P arch82: ;) :P Ur not gonna win in this Joe79: :P :P :P :P ;) ;) ;) arch82: XP XPXP ;P ;P :P ;) Joe79: Ok lets move on from here :P arch82: Y? getingbord? :P XP  Or just tird of losng? Joe79: Hey I made u forget ur grammar id say that’s a victory right there Still there??:P arch82: You distracted me Whatever, anyway I’m glad we came in here because it’s easier than to have to whisper the entire time Joe79: U said that at an unfortunate moment my sessions about to expire arch82: But you just filled it Joe79: Something tells me Jims upto no good looks like we will hav to move from here arch82: Fine but I’ll add you on facebook first . That way we dont have to rely on the messenger the entire time Joe79: Facebook?I donthav an acount on it. The sites pretty lame. If u ask me I think its just a fad which is gonna die out soon arch82: Nah I think it’ll last long you won’t believe how addicted my friends are to it Joe79: Well I donthavenuff time left arch82: It’ll just take a couple of minutes to make an account Joe79: Ok but I think my times almost up arch82: Maybe you have more than you think Joe79 has logged out. Their Your messages will be sent as part of offline chatting. I look at the screen with bemusement. Too bad, I was enjoying being on chat with him, it was simpler than having to speak in hushed voices throughout the library although I have to admit I kind of enjoyed it. I hear Jim’s raised voice, he points out towards the hall, Nick hunches his shoulders and looks back at me. Well, that’s that, he won’t be coming back. Not that he cares, but this means I won’t be seeing him here. Not too bad of a loss though, now that we’ve met each other again, I can probably keep in touch with him. After all, he lives here, I live here. We’re both on the hunt for jobs and we’ve both had a pretty bad run at relationships. I don’t generally believe in things like fate but it does seem that we have met each other incidentally at a pretty convenient time. Maybe we could help each other out in some way or just stay in contact. I look back to see him walking awkwardly towards me, I’m sure he’s just doing that to humor me. I realize I’m smiling, he may go about his crazy antics on occasion but I can’t help but feel that I love the idea of being around him more. That moment in the children’s section with him blossoms its way in to my thoughts. That long silent minute, I couldn’t get my thoughts straight but I didn’t care and I all I felt was that I wanted to be like that and keep sharing it with him. What exactly am I thinking? For someone like me who usually gets the answers quickly it’s frustrating to have so many questions. I’ll just log out of this computer first and then think about it then, maybe I should ask him whether he’d like to go out for dinner, it is almost evening. I blink and notice a small an online message, from Joe79. From this morning when I had been chatting with him, it’s only a couple of lines. Joe79: I asked her the question!!! She said YES!! Im getting married!!!! “Can’t believe he banned me from the whole library”, I approach Emily who stares transfixed from the computer screen then at me, her eyes and mouth wide open. She seems to have taken it pretty badly. “Don’t worry though, you’re going to have a hard time shaking me off this time because I intend to keep on bugging you”, I smile but she continues with the same expression. The library can’t mean this much to her. “What’s with you?” “You’re getting married?!” She shouts aloud turning every head towards us. It’s my turn to be transfixed. I didn’t realize it came out as a shout, everyone looks at us, even people outside of the electronic library peek through the glass door, I notice all this through the corners of my eyes because my stare is locked on Nick who remains stationary. He moves his lips but no words seem to be spelling out. The people around us didn’t bother to shush. Jim comes to tell me off but I look at him dead in the eye and he backs off, I must have a particularly fierce expression on my face to have turned this place like this. Finally, Nick whispers. “You mind if we discuss this somewhere else?” I sober up and begin feeling embarrassed, suddenly very aware my neck is extremely hot. Like Nick, I blink and motion towards the door. The walk out is easily the most uncomfortable I’ve felt in here. “Where are you going?” I hear Nick’s whisper from behind me. “Out here”, I say and push open the door, the ray of the evening sunlight greets us as we walk into the library gardens, under normal circumstances I would have acknowledged the beauty and teased him on it. “And it didn’t occur to you to bring me out here in the first place?” He asks me, I casually raise my shoulders. He nods and says seriously, “I know it must have been a surprise.” “So is it true?” “How did you know about it?” “I saw it on your offline messages from this morning”, she tells me, ““Were you just joking because you didn’t know it was me?” “No, it’s true.” “So you’re getting married?” “I’m getting married.” “To whom?” she asks but I have a feeling she’s only doing so to make it sink in. “Leah.” Her eyes widen with the news, I was braced for it but it doesn’t make it any easier to see. She’s disappointed, but this is Emily I’m talking to right now. Even though she has the exact same look as everyone else she’s not the like them. She’s someone I can tell everything to and not be nervous about her misunderstanding me. Because she always has understood, she’s always made sure I feel at ease with her. I wait for her response, which doesn’t come. “I know it must be a surprise to hear it”, I say. She nods, I wait again for her to speak but instead she takes off ahead, a second of realization later I go after her. She turns around into a kind of bushy maze. I take numerous turns before noticing an opening. In the center stands a huge fountain running. I trudge over and take a seat next to her, drops of water falling on her head, the kind of picturesque look forming again. “You’ll be a real hit with the wedding photographer.” “So I take it I’m invited?” She looks up at me. “You don’t need an invitation. Actually you do, if I don’t confirm it with her, she’ll serve me for dinner at the reception.” She chuckles softly. I shift closer to her, feeling the mood a little lighter now. “I don’t think your bride would want me hogging all the wedding pictures.” “There’s a chance I might not be needed considering she’s so excited for her own pictures so you can take up my part.” She smiles slightly. “Emily, what’s the matter?” He asks me confusedly. That’s a question I’d like to answer. Considering the circumstances, it just isn’t right. I look up. He sits there with his confused expression. “I guess it’s a shock to find out, that’s all.” “I have to say, I didn’t expect you to react like this.” “No, it’s not because of what you said”, I begin to cover up, “Or it is a little, what I mean is that when I found out I thought we should go somewhere we could really talk, so I brought you out to the garden.” “Then why did you run into this maze?” “I thought someone might hear us, no one comes to this fountain so I figured we talk here.” “We should have just come here when we met, look, there’s all the places we’ve been today”. He points at the library building. “So do you want to talk more over here or go somewhere else?” “Actually I have somewhere I need to be in a little while.” I lie. “Wait, wait”, he runs in front of me, “Why are you going right now?” “It’s important.” “Could you wait a little while?” He asks, I stop in my tracks. This was a lame excuse anyway. “I’d just like to know one thing”, I say, he nods, “How come you didn’t tell me before? You said you’d broken up with her.” “Well, that all did happen”, he sighs, I take a seat, “The day after we were at the club, I couldn’t help but feel I’d given up without actually fighting. My reason to part with her didn’t sound enough and you were right, it wasn’t. So one day, I couldn’t shake her off my head. I just felt that I had to see her. I wound up at her doorstep not knowing what to expect. She opened the door and there I was, proposing to her. I acted on impulse. The next second she threw herself at me and accepted. Turns out it didn’t work out with that guy again. So, I don’t know, I guess, it was just meant to be.” He ends his story, the one he should have told me hours ago, before… well he shouldn’t have left it out. He still didn’t really answer my question. “But how come you didn’t tell me before?” “The thing is”, he starts sounding nervous, “To tell you the truth, the reception hasn’t been well. My parents told me flat that I was making the biggest mistake of my life, my younger brother told me he didn’t support me either. My roommate actually told me to move out.” “Still doesn’t answer my question.” “You get what I mean, It’s that, everyone who matters to me hasn’t given me their support I haven’t told you this before but, I think of you as someone I can easily tell things to and I was just scared that you’d react the exact same way everyone else has.” All this makes me feel even worse, because I feel the way he doesn’t want me to. I’d love to tell him he’s making a huge mistake. But I can’t. Not because I promised him I wouldn’t judge him. It’s because I probably realize the answer to my earlier questions. I know now what I might feel. “So, what do you think?” He asks me nervously, “You think I’m making a mistake?” “Here’s the thing, Nick, It doesn’t matter what I think or what others say, what matters is how you feel. So I’m going to ask you straight. Do you love her?” He looks taken aback at my question, I wait for his response, heart pounding and barely breathing. “Yes”, he replies, “Yes I do.” My heart sinks. I feel almost like I had once before, when I decided I would never make myself feel like it again. I know for sure, if I continue on from here I’ll be making myself go down that road again and I won’t let that happen. I will not. I try my best to look pleased. “So, you’re sure?” I manage, my voice thick with emotion. “I want to marry her”, he says and with such intensity that I look up to be certain. “Thank you, Emily”, I say, my head feeling much lighter than it had seconds ago. It really is a relief to have her support when no one else has given me theirs. More so because I think of Emily as someone who picks the best choice, at this moment, I’m sure I’ve made the best decision of my life. “You’re welcome”, she says. I barely registering her words due to the intense emotion I’m feeling right now. “So I’ll be seeing you then.” “Soon?” I ask, the emotion slowly leveling up. “Yeah.” “You’ll be getting an invitation, it’s too late to print one right now but you’ll be getting a special one by mail, arch82.” I smile at her, which she returns. “I’ll be waiting for it.” “We should meet up before it though, I’d like you to meet Leah.” “Uh huh, well, I’ve got to go now. Bye, Nick.” “See you soon, Emily.” She gives me one long look, I return it. For the next few moments it’s like it was before in the library. Finally, she turns back. I lift my hand in farewell although she doesn’t see it. I can’t express how glad I am of Emily’s understanding of how I feel. Something tells me the next time I see her, things will be different. Chapter Five - 2009- His Here I am. How long it’s been, I don’t know. How long will it remain this way? I don’t know that either. I’ve grown so used to it, I don’t even know if it hurts anymore. And if it does, I’m just too numb to feel it. Whatever it is, I know one thing. It looks like I’m at the breaking point. Eyes still heavily laden with the pain I feel. I don’t want any chance of the tears to fall down. I’ve had enough of them. I don’t want to cry but that’s the only thing that helps. It’s a loop. As soon as I decide to fight against my thoughts, they rush back to beat me down. Is it all worth it? More importantly, am I? I haven’t done anything to suggest I’ve made a difference. In anyone’s life. Then why should I bother trying to help myself? I’m not worth it, the world knows. It’s time I do too. Darkness surrounds me, like staring into the abyss or it would be if I couldn’t hear the sounds of the waves crashing on the shore behind. I shut my eyes and ears tight, to feel as if I was in some sort of chasm, the type my life felt like. Even the sand I sit on right now has more meaning than I do, at least it’s working at supporting me as I delve into my self-pity. It wasn’t long ago that I had been one of those people who loved to walk here. The difference though, from then and now, was the fact that most visitors had someone with them, as I did once. Now this place is nothing to me other than a symbolization of the feelings of contempt. I feel only pain. But at least it’s something. I don’t want to succumb to the emptiness of my life. I grip my hair in frustration at my lack of understanding. Maybe I could pull the pain I feel inside right out of my skull. It’s no use. The light coming in from the beach house some distance away is really starting to annoy me. I turn backwards to the waves lightly crashing against the shore of the beach, feel the cool night time water on my feet as I make my way further in the ocean, I have no desire to stop. So I carry on my senseless stride into the ocean, at that level where the current takes control. Yet, I keep walking, my heart pumps faster as a thought springs up. What if? Do I dare go through with it? It may not be as painful as people describe it to be. My sadness would end, it would be over. The current gets stronger. Only a small jump in the water is all it would take. I’ve decided it. I’m going to throw myself forward. The instant when I lean ahead is when a flash of light falls on my closed eyelids. It’s the moonlight, I see someone. She seems to have figured out what I was going for and shouts at me to return. I look down to see my reflection. I can’t have gone this insane. Was I actually about to commit suicide? I run back as fast as I can back onto the shore where I fall down on the mud, the person approaches, she looks familiar. Her Thank god he listened to me. I can’t believe I almost saw someone about to drown himself. Talk about right place at the right time. I’m glad my voice reached him. The thought strikes me that I’m running over to a stranger in the middle of the night on the beach but even if he is a murderer, I’ll take my chances. I reach out to lay a hand on his shoulder when he gets up. Surprisingly, he simply begins to leave. I can’t just let him go without being certain he’ll be alright. “Are you alright?” I ask, my question stops him in his tracks. He still hasn’t turned. Head hunched down, as if fighting off some sort of frustration, his fists clenched. “Yes, I’m alright”, his voice sounds muffled, the man begins to walk away again. This is too mysterious for me to let go. “Do you want me to call for help?” “No, I’ll just get going.” “Really, I think it’s be better if I do”, I persist; I don’t like the thought of just leaving him out here. “You might be hurt.” “I’m hurting alright”, his voice gets higher. It sounds familiar. “But why would you care about that?” “I’m sorry?” I ask, thinking that I’m missing something here. “You’re not”, comes his reply, louder still. “Maybe you’ve been hurt, come with me to-“ “You can’t help me”, he cuts me off, “Not now anyway, Emily.” “How do you know my…” I don’t finish my question, I place my hand on his shoulder, he turns. I see his face. “Took you long enough”, says Nick. He’s changed in appearance, shabby and disheveled, his mouth pursed as if attempting to contain an outburst but the moonlight doesn’t hide his eyes which give away everything. I’ve never seen them so livid. In fact, I’ve never seen him angry at all. “Maybe you’ve forgotten who I am”, he says angrily, “Search your brain, you might find a guy named Nick in the tiny corners. Under a lot of stuff you’ve decided aren’t important.” “What are you talking about?” I ask getting concerned. Is he alright? “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have been arrogant enough to think that Emily would have bothered to remember me.” “Seriously, what’s the matter?” “No, no, nothing’s the matter”, he says in a mock cheery tone. “And even if there was something I wouldn’t want to bother your pretty little head with it. After all, you’ve got a lot of other more important things to think of.” “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” “You’ll figure it out”. He says, advancing forward. “I give it a couple of seconds and then you’ll be telling me things about my life which I don’t even know. I mean, others already do so why wouldn’t you?” “You’re starting to scare me”, I say, stepping back. “Don’t be, I wouldn’t want to scare you, you’re too important. Enough to not even remember me.” “I remember you, Nick.” “Oh, you do”, he says again with his fake cheerful tone, “Well then that just makes my day, doesn’t it? I can die peacefully knowing Emily is aware of my existence.” “Just tell me what the matter is.” “Forget about it”, he says, dropping the cheerfulness, “It’s not like you care about me.” “Of course I… Nick, what’s going on?” “I said forget it, Emily”, he says flatly, sitting down on the mud. “I’m not going to, something’s up with you and I’d like to know.” “Please don’t feel obligated to sit beside me”, he says, figuring it out, “Maybe your clothes are expensive, I don’t want you to mess them up on my account.” “I don’t care about my clothes”, I say, dumping myself next to him. “I guess something’s take time to change.” “Why are you so furious?” “I don’t want to bother telling you, it’s not like you’re going to be of any help.” “Again, what is wrong?” I enunciate each word. Since I’ve known him he’s hated being quiet for too long. I fix my stare at him, having no intention of giving in. I don’t want Nick, of all people, to be angry at me. It couldn’t be because I didn’t show. After all, I did respond to him. He was the one who never replied back. “Is it because I didn’t come to your wedding?” I ask anyway. He doesn’t reply but I notice his grip seems to have become tighter on his arm. “Is that the reason? Come on, you know if I’d showed up no one would have bothered to look at the bride”, I joke in my attempt to coax an answer out of him, “Besides, I’m sure you didn’t even notice I wasn’t there. You were way too much in love with Leah for that.” The words had only left my mouth when Nick turns. “Don’t say her name”, he says warningly, taking me by surprise. He turns away again, his reaction was somewhat unexpected. I figured there may have been something wrong. He looks to be on the edge or pretty much over considering I’d just seen him about to kill himself. “What happened between you and… her?” I ask carefully. He slowly turns back to look at me, his face a mixture of sadness and anger. “Is she alright?” I ask, he doesn’t respond. “Did something happen to her?” If only he’d tell me so I could at least try to offer my help. “It’s okay”, I continue, placing a hand gently on his arm. It relaxes with my touch. His breathing seems to have slowed down. Yet, he still doesn’t say anything. I’ll have to patient for this. “Tell me.” “Forget it”, he says in a small voice, head hunched down. “I want to know”, I assure him. “Like you care.” “I can’t help you when you’re like this.” “You should’ve helped me when I wanted it.” “You never asked for my help.” “You can’t help me so just leave me alone”. He gets up and moves away. I pick myself up to follow him. “I want to.” “Look, Emily, I really don’t want your help, so please leave me.” “But-“ “Please… Please just leave”, he begs, joining his hands together. I don’t know what else to say. I haven’t been able to reach out to him. “Ok, I hope you feel better”, I turn back, along the way, all the conversations I’d had with Nick over the last several years come back to me. I’ve never seen this side of him. He’s always been a fun loving person. If it had been the other way round I’m sure Nick would have stayed beside me. I don’t want to leave him here. I’d been hoping to meet him sometime down the line. He’s not getting rid of me, not tonight. “I’m staying”, I take my place back next to him. “I don’t want you here.” “Doesn’t matter.” “Seriously-“ “I’m staying, Nick”, I say defiantly, “And you can’t make me leave.” “Whatever”, he says turning away. “Either you tell me what’s bothering you or we do this all night.” “Don’t you have anything else to do?” He asks annoyed. “Not for the entire night, so it seems like you’re stuck with me.” “What does it matter to you? You’re just going to leave again.” “I’m here for the night so I won’t be leaving.” I say, he eyes me suspiciously as if not sure whether to believe my words. “You don’t have to pretend to care.” “How about telling me why you think I don’t care?” “Because you don’t.” “Well that clears it up”, I say sarcastically, “And here I thought you were going to be vague about it.” “Very funny.” “Nice to see a bit of sarcasm left in you. That’s the Nick I know.” “Well he’s not here anymore.” “That brings us back to the main question, why?” He looks at me again, I’m sure he’s run out of comebacks. “I don’t want to”, he says in a small voice. “Ok, how about this”, I suggest, “I’ll make a few guesses and you tell me whether I’m right”. He simply rolls his eyes. “I’ll take that as a yes, is it about Leah?” No soon had I said her name when Nick turned sharply like before. “So it is, care to tell me?” Clearly he’s been harboring some rage towards this matter. “Can’t you guess that, too?” “Ok, but don’t go flying off the handle like before”, I say, his outburst at me still hasn’t settled in yet. “Is she alright?” “I guess.” “Are you guys having problems?” “We were”. He says, it’s pretty plain now what must have happened. “Where is she now?” “I don’t know”, he says with contempt. “Are you still together?” I ask in the way I think might be gentle, Nick’s face tightens with the question. “Isn’t it obvious?” He asks finally, his voice cracking. I take a while to ask further. “Can I ask what happened?” “It won’t make a difference”, he says defeated. “I mean, it won’t change that we…” he doesn’t finish. “Split up”, I finish for him. “I’m sorry, Nick.” “It’s alright”, he says, “It is true after all.” “So, do you want to talk about it?” “No.” “It might make you feel better.” “I’ve talked about it. A lot.” “It helps when you share your sadness.” “Oh yeah, who am I supposed to share it with?” He asks aloud, “I thought it was supposed to be the one I’d vowed to spend the rest of my life. That was all a load of crap.” “I’m sure it must be hard for you”, I say calmly. “She never wanted any of it.” “You can still share it with me, I’m here.” “Ya, you most certainly are”, he says contemptuously, more so than when he’d been referring to Leah. “But I still don’t see a friend.” “Come on, Nick”, I say dejectedly, “You don’t mean that.” “Oh, I do.” “But, why?” “Maybe you should just get off your high horse you’ll learn what it is to have feelings.” He continues his insults. Hearing him say that is hurtful but it does hold some truth. This is the first time in a long while that I’m feeling something, even if it is pain. “At least tell me why you think I have something to do with it?” “Why should I tell you when you never cared?” He asks. I sigh, if only he knew that I did. More than I could admit. “We’re just running around in circles. Do you want to tell me the reason at all?” “What I want is for you to leave.” “You know, I might have hurt you in some sort of way but you’re being the same yourself. Words hurt too.” “Words mean nothing. You have no idea what hurt feels like.” “Yes I do”, I respond, he has no idea. “Really? Once you find out how many times I’ve been kicked down in the ground you’ll realize what I’m talking about.” “You’re not the first one to feel that way.” “No one’s been beaten up by life as much as I have”, He says angrily. “You can always get back up.” “That’s so easy to say. But it’s not easy to take”, He responds quickly, “There comes a point when you just can’t take it anymore.” “Is that why you were about to drown yourself?” I ask. He quiets down. There’s no justification for suicide, at least not in my book. “It didn’t help.” He answers back after a while. “What didn’t?” “Sharing with you. Or were you just saying stuff you didn’t mean?” “Didn’t you say I wasn’t your friend?” I reply with a question of my own, “Or were you just saying stuff you didn’t mean?” He pauses at this. I wait for his response. “Always have an answer, don’t you? I forgot you were quick but it doesn’t change anything.” “Maybe I could change it if you let me.” “Look, you can’t just give a smart answer and expect me to happily accept it”, he says, his voice rising. “It doesn’t work like that, Emily.” “You’re not even giving me a chance to give you an answer, Nick”, I say, raising my voice too. “I don’t want to”, he says shortly, “I don’t want to give you a chance so that you make me feel as if I have a friend I can trust.” “You can trust me. And I am your friend.” “I can’t trust you”, he says, almost shouting. “Why do you keep saying that?” I ask, increasing my voice to match his. “Friends are there for each other”, he yells aloud, standing up now. Shoulders hunched threateningly. “And you weren’t there.” “Fine, I wasn’t but that doesn’t mean you can blame your problems as my fault.” “BUT IT IS.” He screams, “It is your fault.” “How?” “Because the reason I got married was because you told me it was the right decision”, he yells, “YOU!” He points his finger at me. I don’t understand. “What do you mean?” “What do you think? Whatever I’m stuck in, this hell that is my life, it’s because of you.” “Let me try and get this straight”, I say after a long pause, “You’re saying, it’s because of me that you’re separated from your wife? That, because I encouraged you to get married, you’re miserable? “Exactly”, he nods furiously. “Are you hearing yourself, Nick?” I ask, astonished. “Do you really believe that?” “I do, I’ve given it a lot of thought. And that makes the most sense.” “How, exactly?” “I don’t need to explain myself to you.” “You can’t just blame me for everything and think I’m just going to sit around and accept that.” “Think on it like I have because I’m sure you’re going to end up the same place I did.” “In the middle of the ocean about to attempt suicide?” “I never said that’s what I was doing”, he defends himself. “Then what was it?” “Don’t try to spin this around on me?” “I’m not. I asked you straight up, how am I responsible for your problems? You just accused me, I want to know why.” “What do you want to know? Do you remember that day when you found out about my wedding?” I still remember that shock, so unexpected, I wasn’t sure how to respond. “Yes, I remember”, I say irritably, he’s just going around in circles. “And you told me I should go with it.” “I asked you if you loved her or not”, I remind him. “That’s right.” “It is, so how was I wrong?” “You pushed me into marrying her.” “No, I didn’t”, I say, “I accepted your decision, that’s what a friend would have done.” “None of my other friends did that”, Nick retaliates, “They all told me I was wrong, and they were right to say that. Because, here I am.” “Fine, maybe I gave the wrong advice but that doesn’t justify pinning it all on me.” “You should have been looking out for me.” “Now you’re really being childish, I asked you plainly whether you loved her and you said yes. What was I supposed to say after that?” “I don’t know. You should have thought of something.” “I’m sorry, I guess I was wrong to ask someone about to get married if he loved his bride”, I say sarcastically. Nick stares at me fuming, a relative improvement over the noncompliant silent demeanor although his accusations have been appalling, to blame me entirely for his misery. That hurts me bad. “That’s not the only reason I’m angry at you”, he says, after waiting for me to say something. “At least you’re talking now, even if you’re being insensitive.” “I didn’t plan on being this way but seeing you now after all this time, I can’t help it.” “Because you blame me for all of it?” “I have a right to think like this, you know”, he argues, “You weren’t here.” “That’s true”, I agree with the second bit, “But that’s not reason enough.” “If you didn’t want me blaming you, then you should have been around to do something about it.” “I am here now, aren’t I?” “It’s too late.” “It’s never too late to make amends.” “It’s too late to fix the mess I’m left in.” “One step at a time”, I say, “First we’ll deal with this then we can see about the rest”. He looks at me, looking amused in a sort of way. “Alright, let’s try that. How about I tell my story in third person?” “If you think that helps.” “Here’s a reason for you”, he starts, I have a sense of foreboding, “A guy meets a girl some time ago. She’s kind of a closed book but he feels like she gets him.” I can sense the sarcasm in this mock fairytale story of his but let him continue. “Their paths cross again. Spend a happy day together, this time the boy revealed more. She remained unwilling to share but he thought he might have found a friend who was eager to hear his troubles and help him. A third time the boy told her about himself. The girl was willing to share some information of her own this time. The boy was delighted, it meant a great deal that she saw him that way, more than he cared to admit to her”, I look at Nick, does he mean that? “The boy revealed what he was most anxious about, put all his faith into her advice which turned out to be the biggest mistake he ever made. After a lot of pain he needed his friend‘s support but she was gone. She simply vanished and now she shows up because she hates it when someone blames her, because she always wants to be right.” “You’ve certainly given it a lot of thought”, is all I can think of saying. It’s a surprise he cared this much. I’d been under the impression it was only me, I feel as if I’ve let him down. Our friendship did mean something to him and I had a big part in letting it go, although not all of it. He’s not right about one thing. “Yes, because I was the idiot who thought we had a friendship.” “You’re right, I shouldn’t have taken you for granted but I did respond to your invitation.” “Well then, why didn’t you reply to my post?” “Trick question. You never sent me the invitation by post. You e-mailed it.” “That doesn’t prove you replied.” “I e-mailed you back saying I couldn’t make it because I had to go out of town for work.” “You’re just making it up.” “I’m telling the truth.” “How are you supposed to have messed up a simple e-mail?” “You want me to recount all of it for you? Fine, I opened my e-mail, saw your wedding invitation, replied telling you the reason I couldn’t make it.” “I never got it”, Nick argues, shaking his head in confusion. “Well then, joe79, there must be something wrong with your e-mail.” “Wait”, Nick says, looking at me for the first time without any anger, “You replied to joe79?” “Of course, that’s your e-mail.” “No it’s not. I changed it.” “When, exactly?” “Two years ago.” “Problem solved, I didn’t know you changed your e-mail. So you couldn’t have gotten my reply”. Nick, however, seems even angrier now. “I sent you a message to tell you I’d changed it.” “I never got it”, I say truthfully. “I would have definitely replied.” “I clearly messaged to tell you it was me.” “Why would I lie to you? What’s your new e-mail id?” “I didn’t send the message through that. I made up an account just for you?” “Why?” I ask, taken aback. “It was supposed to be a joke, I remembered you telling me about the guy you met in Oman. So I made up an account named Emilyguy and sent you a request on MSN.” “I remember that”, I say loudly as I recollect the time I had received the invitation. “Nick, this is just a big case of bad luck.” “What do you mean?” “At the time I was receiving several invitations from the same guy so I never accepted them.” “But I sent you an e-mail as well.” “I’d also started blocking those e-mail ids”, I explain, “So it’s obvious what must have happened.” “You blocked me as soon as you saw the request”. Nick says clearly. “Exactly”, I say with satisfaction, “So it’s all cleared up now, isn’t it?” “Partly”, he says, I feel a sinking sensation, isn’t he done yet? What more does he have to be angry about? “Still doesn’t explain how you just disappeared all of a sudden?” “Why do you think I disappeared?” “Because I didn’t stop there.” “Really?” I ask surprised. I thought he’d forgotten about me once he got married. “Yeah, I went back to that stupid library to find you, only, that librarian was serious about banning me.” “I can’t believe you did that, Nick”, I say, flattered, “I didn’t think you would ever return to that place after that day.” “I wanted to talk to a friend, turns out you weren’t there.” “I stopped going there.” “So, another case of bad luck?” “Looks like it”. I say slowly, “Everything cleared up?” Nick looks at me, it seems as if he’s fighting some inner dispute. “Look, I don’t want to be angry, Emily”, he says, “But I can’t not be.” “Why not?” “Because it still doesn’t make sense how we didn’t meet again.” “Maybe we weren’t supposed to meet”, I suggest unconvincingly, “maybe I was meant to find you here tonight.” “One of the things I’ve learnt about you is that you don’t believe in things like these. You can’t expect me to believe that.” He’s right, I can’t. “Did you try to look for me?” He asks, staring straight into my eyes, it’s my turn to avert them. “I thought so.” “I shouldn’t have cut you off like that.” “Can I ask why?” “We never actually exchange contacts with each other. You just had my e-mail. You never asked for my number.” “You didn’t ask me, either.” “Well, I’m not the one being bothered by it.” I blurt out. Nick looks hurt, that didn’t come out right. “That’s correct. I’m the one with the problem.” “That’s not what I meant”, I say apologetically. “What can I say? My attachment with another person tends to increase once I’ve asked for their advice over my wedding.” “I’m humbled that it meant so much to you but you can’t term that as the break-up of your marriage.” “I feel as if you just pushed me into making a mistake just so you could get rid of me”, he says, his voice deep with emotion, “That’s the problem. I got my heart ripped out. You didn’t think of the consequences and you don’t want to accept responsibility for any of it.” We both sit in silence. I’d wanted to tell him so badly not to go through with it but I’m sure at the time he wouldn’t have listened to me. But I was wrong, I should have been honest. I understand his need for justification but it still isn’t right to blame it on me. “There’s only one way I will accept that it’s my fault. You’re going need to tell me what happened.” “I can’t”, Nick says hesitantly. “I deserve to know what made you think I’m responsible.” “I can’t”, he repeats slowly. “I know it must be difficult”, I say consolingly, “But it’s not been easy for me to hear you say all these things about me either, you know?” “You won’t understand.” “Then make me.” I say confidently. He looks up at me pleadingly, as if requesting me not to make him relive his terrible memories but I adamantly look back at him. “Tell me everything after the day at the library.” “Fine, right after you left I got a call from… her”, says Nick, “I figured now that I was sure about marrying her, I should focus on making her happy. The wedding went ahead with whatever she wanted, thousands of flowers, expensive clothes, posh wedding planner”. “No wonder the wedding card was so nice.” “It was something else”, says Nick with a sad smile, “The costs aren’t believable, its been two years.” “Care to give me a hint?” “I could’ve gone back to college with the amount spent on the wedding”, he says, I mouth ‘wow’ as he continues, “It was going to be hard to pay all the costs. Turns out she hadn’t paid for her dress and the credit was due by the wedding day, which meant either we paid or returned the dress.” “Dear god, what did you do?” “I didn’t have the kind of money to pay for the dress so in my desperation I took off with my car and sold it. The car my dad had passed down to me. I didn’t have much time so I had to accept any price offered”, Nick goes on, “Because of that, I ended up being late for my own wedding and we were charged extra for the location. Somehow we got through and were married. But I’d sold off my car so we had to call in a taxi. I can still hear her complaining over how embarrassed she felt.” “Was your honeymoon at least okay?” “It might have been worse. I barely had anything to pay for while we were in Italy. What I’d thought was the upside turned out to be the worst part.” “What was it?” “It was Mark.” “Who’s Mark?” “The guy she’d left me for before”, he tells me, this is turning out to be one of the worst marriages ever and he’s only gotten to the honeymoon, “It turned out Mark was the one who’d gifted us the suite at the hotel. I thought he’d followed us there, it was only when I’d confronted him when she told me about it all.” “I bet that didn’t sit well with you.” “You think? What husband would be okay with having his wife’s former lover not only pay for the hotel suite but also stay right next door?” He asks. “We had this big fight, by the end of it she told me I was welcome to go but she wasn’t going anywhere. I had no choice but to stay, but it didn’t make much of a difference.” “Why not?” “I woke up the next morning to find her gone. It wasn’t until evening when she showed up and lied, telling me she’d run into an old classmate from high school.” “So you confronted her?” “No, I was sure she’d justify going out with Mark somehow. I decided to play Mark at his own game and try to win her over.” “In a competition over your own wife”, I say sympathetically. “I was spending a lot of time by myself. It was one of the loneliest I had ever felt. She started buying all these branded items which I was surprised to see, I held my tongue because I didn’t want to upset her. But I had to know where she was getting the money from so I followed her. I saw who bought them for her.” “Mark.” “Yes, I burst in there and started shouting at them. Even this time she took his side but Mark apologized, saying he didn’t realize he did anything wrong and agreed to leave but it ended up making me look as the bad guy. So, he was finally gone, I used all our money to pay for an extra night at the hotel.” “So, that is what caused you to fall apart?” “That was just the start of it all.” “That bad, huh?” I ask considerately. “Yeah, I’m never going to go to Italy again, that’s for sure.” He says, I give out a small laugh, this was the first thing close to a joke Nick has said all night, I feel so sad for him, someone whom I could barely get to be serious has been beside me for hours brooding at his terrible luck. “What happened after that?” “I really don’t want to get into all that again.” “Fine, then tell me, do you still think I’m the one responsible?” “Alright then, once we returned, I was basically apologizing to her for the next two weeks, the wedding bills came back to haunt me. I realized it would take a long time for me to be able to pay. I really would not have minded having to pay for the rest of my life it had been worth it.” His voice rises. “How about you don’t focus on all that, why don’t you tell me what happened after the honeymoon?” “Because that’s such a happy topic, right?” He asks sarcastically. I merely shrug. “Sounds like a better topic than alimony.” I say, Nick looks as if he was about to smile but I can’t be sure of it. “It was time to focus on my job and I knew I had to put extra effort into it.” “So you got a job, at least you had one thing going for you.” “That was because I already had a job lined up for me when I met you.” “Where was it?” “I was going to work for my father in law.” “Oh”, I say, sensing this would not have boded well for him later on. “He didn’t like me, it was a no win situation. I worked hard to gain his approval which I never got and my materialistic wife never saw the effort I put in.” “You know what, Nick?” I say, “Honestly, I don’t think you should be sad, they sound horrible to me.” “I guess I’ve never really learned from my experiences. Every time life shows its reality, I find a way to forget it and throw myself down yet again.” “We all need something to help us remember.” “I suppose you think you fit that description for me”, he turns to me scornfully. It is true the other way around. He fits that that description for me. “You were telling me about the things you said.” “Yes, my endless torment. If I tried to chummy up with my father in law, my wife would complain I wasn’t spending time with her, if I tried to keep her happy, my boss would say I was slacking. I called her at the office one day, thinking we could reach a resolution.” “And did you solve your problems?” “How do you think it went?” He asks rhetorically. “Not good, I’m guessing now.” “My father in law said I was out of line, she agreed and they screamed at me in unison, my father in law actually called everyone in to listen.” “You were really stuck in a bad situation and the best thing in my opinion would have been talking to someone about it.” “You don’t think I thought of that?” “So who did you talk to?” “My parents, they told me to quit my job. I couldn’t because I had nowhere else to go my mom advised me to leave her.” “Judging by your situation that doesn’t like bad advice”. I say, agreeing with his mother. “I had to work on my marriage.” “It sounds to me like you were the only one working.” “Still, divorce was not an option. What I needed was someone to confide into, I tried looking for someone to talk to”, he says, glancing at me for a second, clearly trying to blame me again, “But I couldn’t find anyone.” “There had to have been a breaking point.” “There was, my father in law had a heart attack and was in the hospital. At first my wife blamed me but as time passed she forgot it. Work was better, no one to bully me. Life at home also lifted. I really cherish that time because…” His face cracks into a wide smile, “I found out, I was going to be a father.” “That’s wonderful”, I say. I can’t see this news settling down. Nick, father to a child. That brings up a lot of mixed emotions in me. Happiness and confusion, I do nothing to break the emotion he’s feeling, no doubt thinking of his child. I look at him warmly. The first time he’s been genuinely happy tonight. Then a horrible realization dawns on me. Something terrible happened. Just then, Nick continues. “I was determined to make my child’s life the happiest I could. I was prepared to do anything for it even if it meant being the most miserable man in the world. She was around a couple of months pregnant when…” He says, the smile replaced by a shadowy look of horror, “Every piece of my life fell apart. If only I’d seen it coming…” “What was it?” I ask with concern. “It was like I could never be rid of him.” Nick mumbles, I have the sinking feeling I know who he’s referring to, “Leah’s dad died, I got to the hospital but someone else was consoling her. That was the day my marriage began to take its last breaths.” Nick starts pacing the sand only to sit back down and repeat his fidgety stance. “Are you alright?” I ask him. He looks at me as if only noticing my presence now. “It’s sort of overwhelming, that’s all. So, you wanted me to tell you what happened further”, he says it all very quickly, “I couldn’t believe it. I suppose I should’ve.” “So Mark arrived at the hospital”. He turns quickly at me. “Yeah, it was him”, he says, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. “Slow down.” “Okay, Mark showed up once again to suck the joy out of my life, I hadn’t spared a thought for him in a while what but seeing him in the hospital hugging my wife who was carrying my child. I went and punched him in the face.” “You didn’t!” That was quite out of character for him although this entire night has been. “What really got me mad was that he wasn’t just hugging my wife, he was hugging my baby as well and I couldn’t stand it. Seeing us in that situation sent her in some sort of panic attack and she fainted, thankfully, the child was okay. I was told not to send her through any kind of similar trauma. I warned Mark not to see her again, when I got back to work, I found him at the office, he was my father in law’s partner and now with him dead, Mark was my new boss.” “My god”, is my can comment on this matter, the appearance of this man in Nick’s life really was uncanny. “He transferred me, I had a baby on the way and couldn’t move but he didn’t take anything in. Leah encouraged me to go. I only saw her once a week. I noticed she seemed distant with me when I talked to her on the phone, I tried to convince myself I was just…”, says Nick, he becomes worried once more now as he gets further in, “One day, I weaseled out of work. I couldn’t shake off the feeling I was supposed to be back home. I knew I was right to be apprehensive. All my fears were right.” “You saw them?” I ask. Nick nods sadly. “I saw them… together. They thought I was confronting them but I simply walked out. I knew something was bound to happen once Mark returned. I contemplated walking into the office and quitting but I had my child to think of. She was the only thing that mattered and if that meant having to work for the man screwing my wife then so be it.” Nick says, “The next day I told Mark to move me back, he obliged as he’d gotten her back now. She came to the office that day to demand a divorce.” “That’s terrible”, I say consolingly, hating Leah’s guts more than ever. “I told her I wouldn’t give it to her, at least until the baby was born after which I was ready to fight for. She warned me she would find a way to hurt me. Mark saw it as the perfect reason to lay me off. Before I went though, I unloaded on him about everything he’d done to me, got a pretty good severance check and deposited it in my savings, I was determined to save the money for my baby’s future”, Nick says, I look at him with a mixture of admiration and respect, despite everything that happened to him, he still kept his child first and foremost. “She hired a lawyer, wanted to get divorced as soon as possible. I had a lawyer of my own, my little brother was at law school and had a few contacts. All I wanted was for my child to be born. I was set to win and get custody once the baby was born. That day she told me she wasn’t going to let me get away with it. I dared her to give it her best shot.” Suddenly, Nick runs his hand around his face and hair repeatedly as if unsure what to do next. It looks as if he’s forgotten about me. “It’s just… I couldn’t possibly have known”, he says to me pleadingly, as if asking for my forgiveness. “But it has to be my fault…I mean…” “Listen. Take a deep breath.” “I should never have challenged her… I didn’t know what she was capable of… who could’ve thought?” “Listen to me.” I take hold of him firmly, he finally gives me his attention. “You’re in shock.” The way he’s reacting, making him relive his unfortunate events might drive him mad. It was a mistake to make him recount it all. “You don’t need to go on.” “I’ve gone too far. It’s like it all just happened. Now I can’t get it out of my mind.” “But you need to, what’s the alternative?” “That”, he says darkly, pointing towards the sea. “That won’t fix anything.” “You think so?” He asks loudly, his eyes bulging. “I don’t think suicide can be justified, besides…” I take a breath, it’s time to take a shot in the dark. “If you kill yourself, what would happen to your child? Think about it.” I realized whatever sent Nick into frenzy had to do with his baby. “That’s just it”, Nick says, quietly now. “What do you mean?” “I was going to end it… so I could see my child again.” “What?” I ask, my voice barely higher than a whisper. “I never should have dared her”, Nick quivers, “She never thought of anything else when she wanted revenge. Even if that meant… taking a life.” “Not to her own child”, I whisper, “She had the baby aborted?” I ask. After a moment of silence, he nods. No wonder he’s been behaving like this. Killing her child as an act of revenge, Nick was right. She was capable of terrible things. I look at him. A broken man, angry at the way the world’s treated him. He must have gone through all this in his head, traced it back to me, when I told him to go through with it. That one suggestion of mine would stretch all the way to the death of an unborn child. “I’m sorry”, I say sincerely, “For the baby. Leah was a horrible person to do that.” “Don’t say her name”, Nick cries. “It doesn’t matter. You can’t run away from it all.” “Can’t I? There’s nothing I could do. The only thing that’s left is to run away.” “I’m not saying you should cling on to it. But don’t try to escape it.” “Look, Emily. You wanted me to tell you what happened. It didn’t make a lick of a difference.” He shouts. “So leave me alone, and yes I’ll do whatever the hell I want. You’ve done enough as it is.” “So we’re back to this then?” “You can’t understand what I’m feeling. You never will, because you’ve never lost anyone.” “I know-“ “No, you don’t know”, he interrupts, “This is life and to understand it, you have to experience it. You won’t get what it’s like when you’re standing there, ready to give whatever it takes, just to get that person back. You think you know just because you heard me say it?” “Don’t go thinking that I’ve never experienced anything like that.” “Well you haven’t, have you?” He asks me. “You’re like a robot. Programmed to excel in whatever she sets her sights on. You can design amazing buildings with its crossbeams and get published in magazines but you don’t know the simplicity of having a connection with someone else. You had that one guy but what did you do? Nothing. It wouldn’t have mattered if you were with him in seventh heaven, you still would have felt like hell. I tried so hard to understand how or why you felt like that. But now, I think you’re just not capable.” “You have no idea what you’re talking about”, I say, my voice ominously low. “Oh, I don’t? Then tell me, why is it that you don’t want children, Emily? Why are you so afraid to be close to another person? Why is it that you don’t trust anyone but yourself? What is it you’re hiding?” “That’s my business.” “You’ve been sitting here judging me for not talking to my family but what are you? Clearly you have nothing to share because you have no relationship with them.” “Oh really, Nick?” I shout back. He’s touched a nerve. I’ve been sitting quietly all night while he’s abused me repeatedly but I’ve had enough of it. There’s only so much I can take without him making baseless accusations at me. He doesn’t even know. “What have you ever told me about your family? The only one I know something about is your older brother and that he liked to climb mountains, that’s all you’ve shared and you’re lecturing me. What does yours mean to you?” “They mean everything to me.” “Simply naming your e-mail address after you older brother doesn’t mean anything.” “Don’t talk about my brother.” “Maybe if you stop trying to kill yourself and go interact with your family, things might seems different”, I say, it is satisfying to throw something back at him for a change. “Just grow up and spend some time with your brother.” “I can’t”. He says, his voice dropping sharply, “Because he’s dead.” “If you’re lying just to make a point, Nick…” I say fuming, I wouldn’t put it beside him to attempt something like that. “I’m not. When I described to you what it was like to lose someone you love, I wasn’t just talking about my unborn child. I was also talking about my brother.” Nick says, quietly still. The silence with which he spoke removes all doubt from me. Suddenly I don’t feel angry. He’s made me lose my patience with him, yet, despite the rage pulsing in my head, I can’t help but push it aside for a minute as I sit back down and ask further. “When did it happen?” “Before I met you.” “How come you never told me about him?” “I don’t like talking about it if I can help it”. He says, “It’s just… It’s not easy.” “Come on, Nick. You just shared the horrible loss of your child with me. You can tell me this, too.” “That was different. I had some to… I mean, it wasn’t my fault”. “Whatever happened… or whatever you did. It can’t be changed.” “I know, but it wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t…” “What?” I ask, Nick turns to me, with tears in his eyes. “My brother died because of me.” He trembles, as soon as the words leave him, he breaks down crying. It’s the first time I’ve seen him weep. So much I’ve learnt about him tonight, different sides I’ve seen. “You shouldn’t blame yourself for whatever happened”, I say sympathetically. “No, it was my fault.” “How did he die?” I ask, I want him to unload all of it. “It was ten years ago. For me, he was my hero, he could do nothing wrong.” He says, all the while weeping. “All I wanted was to be like him. He loved to go mountain climbing, something about it gave him a rush, that’s what he told me. I wanted to him to keep on pushing his limits because I thought he didn’t have any…” Nick coughs loudly, his emotions getting to him, I pat him gently as consolation. “There was this one mountain near our house. I pestered him to come along with me, he didn’t want to, said it was a dangerous spot. It was time for him to go for college. I wanted to do something with him one last time. I went by myself leaving him a note.” Nick continues. “He’d always been protective of me and my little brother. He arrived at the mountain, saw me there and tried to take me back. I ran upwards, daring him to follow. It was so steep I could barely climb. I realized I was stuck. He saw it too and made his way over to the ledge. J-Joe finally got to me. I couldn’t hold on any longer.” Nick’s eyes widen in horror, tears leaking rapidly from then, he continues hoarsely, “He gave me his hand to hold onto but I-I panicked and my hand slipped. H-he t-tried his best to pull me up, but the branch broke off… b-before I could fall… Joe pushed me away, I fell back while he…” Nick chokes on his tears, trembling in anguish. “I’m so sorry.” “Gone… Gone forever”. He cries. “A-And it was all m-my f-fault. I killed my own brother.” “It’s okay, you couldn’t have done anything to save him”. I console him, he hugs his knees with his face hidden between them, shuddering, completely broken down. “That’s what happens to me. I keep losing everyone, I can never do anything. I’m so powerless.” “We’re all like that.” “I don’t see anyone else so helpless… so weak.” “I have and I can understand how you feel.” “I can’t… I just don’t know what I’m supposed to do to get out of this, all of it.” He says, pressing his hands on his face, “I’m so trapped, my brother… it was all me, he would still be here. I would give anything to have him back. I’d give my own life.” “That’s just it though, you can’t. Whatever you hope to do, it still won’t bring him back”. I tell him. “The same goes for your baby. Nick, losing your child lifted those feelings you’d pushed down over your brother’s death back up?” He doesn’t reply, I see this as a chance to finally tell him how I feel about his situation. “I really am sorry for the people you’ve lost in your life and I agree it happens without you having any control over it. But you have to fight it, you can’t antagonize the people who love and support you because of this, feeling powerless, because it won’t help. It’s like a masking agent, it won’t heal your wounds, only lighten the pain for a short while.” I continue. “Like I said, I agree with you, about Leah, about your troubles, about your losses. You were the victim in all those but please don’t get used to being in that role because you’re only leading yourself to more misery. I hope you understand how sincere I’m being here and don’t think I’m just saying all this. Because I’m not, I honestly want to help you.” “How, Emily? How is it that after everything I’ve said to you, you’re still here?” He asks, looking up at me, his tears glistening, “I’ve been nothing but terrible to you.” “I don’t know if I’ve told you this before but I always thought of you as the most unique person I’d met. In spite of you treating me like a special friend of yours, I never returned the favor, but you never held it against me. I always admired that about you. You always made re-evaluate my priorities in life, after each time I’ve me you, I’ve tried to change myself, trying to be like you. Never judging me for any decision I made. Which is why I’ve tried to be patient with you. I’m sure you would have done the same thing to me.” I tell him. “Most of this is not based on tonight though.” I add at the end. “I’d like to believe everything you just said. But I don’t know if I can.” He says with some effort. “I can’t help but be scared. I want to trust you but something’s holding me back. I want to let go of this, there just doesn’t seem to be a way to.” We sit quietly after this, even with the weight of this situation, I feel lighter in the head, finally he got around to telling me everything. At least now we have something to work on. The beach remains secluded except for the two of us. I look up at the moon, its light shines at a mount to our right. An idea unexpectedly pops in my head as I observe the small peak, actually it’s a solution. It can’t get more fitting than this. “I know how you can let go, Nick.” I say, he turns to me. “What do you mean?” “This time, I talk and you listen.” I lead him onto to the edge of the beach, until we arrive at the mount. “What are we doing here?” “Time to let go.” “What do you mean?” “You wanted a way to overcome your fears, here’s your chance.” I say smiling and point towards the peak. His mouth opens in fright. “And yes, I am talking about what you think I’m talking about.” His “You can’t be serious.” I ask in fright. “I am.” She says, still smiling. “You have been listening to me, right? The focal point of my story was that I’m scared of heights.” “And you were listening to me too, weren’t you? I said it’s time to let go.” “There’s got to be a better way.” “So you’re saying you prefer drowning to falling? So suck it up and get on up there.” “I don’t know, Emily”. I say, looking worryingly at the mount. “This is supposed to make me feel better?” “It’s better than sitting on the mud moping.” “I wasn’t moping. I was whining.” “See? Just talking about it is bringing up the sarcasm in you, Imagine how you’ll be once you climb.” “What if I just end up stopping midway and get stuck up there?” “I’ll call the fire department.” “They won’t come to the beach at this hour”. I argue. “I’m scared.” “That’s the point.” “Umm… Are you sure?” I ask one final time. “Yes.” She says with finality in her tone and her hands folded. “And I’m not coming with you, either.” No other option but to hike up, breath caught in my throat, I close my eyes and move my feet upwards while my hands frantically grapple the rock. I must look like an idiot to Emily, part of me wonders if this was her idea of a joke, if it is then it’s a very cruel one, I glimpse the ground for a second before shutting my eyes quickly. This was exactly the push I needed and scurry upwards reaching to a flatter base. I remain lying down until my breathing steadies. I was right before. I hate this. I can’t believe I climbed all the way over. I can barely make out Emily, she gives me the thumbs or is she flipping me off? Either way, I’m too frightened to let my vision linger. I curl myself in my spot with my head ducked down. This was so stupid. Why did I think it would help? There’s only one option. I’ll just have to live here. Maybe Emily could throw up some food. What am I thinking? I really have lost it. Attempting suicide, behaving like the biggest jackass to Emily, blaming everyone else for my problems and screaming my head off. Have I really become that pathetic? I see my problems from a different perspective. Not from my self-pitying biased eyes. All I see is a ridiculous person who’s given up on himself. Emily’s heard everything I had to say yet she hasn’t given up on me while I’m feeling trapped in my misery, still too scared to do anything about it. You know what, Nick? That’s it. Time to let go. I jump up from my spot, unflinching. Darkness surrounds me, I embrace it, opening my arms wide. There she is, I see her clearly. She has a wide smile on her face which I return without realizing. I wave both of my hands at her, laughing. “Hey there, Emily!” I shout. “What’s up, Nick?” She shouts back. “Nothing much. Decided to climb up a mountain!” “That’s great. Still scared?” “I don’t know.” I answer truthfully. “I’m not really sure what to do now.” “Let go of your troubles, then.” “How do I do that exactly?” “You know what? I don’t know myself.” “Then why’d you make me climb up here?” “Took a shot”. She tells me, I look at her appealingly while she laughs. “I feel like shouting.” “Then shout.” “What do I shout out?” “How about… ‘I’m not scared anymore.’” “Alright.” I breathe in hard before yelling. “I’M NOT SCARED ANYMORE!” “That’s the spirit.” I hear Emily’s calling. “Now try, ‘You suck, Leah!’” “Okay”, I laugh, “YOU SUCK, LEAH.” “That’s great.” “What else?” “I don’t know. Whatever comes to your mind I guess?” “Ok, then.” I say, the next few words spring to my mind instantly and I waste no time in vocalizing them. “GOODBYE JOE! GOODBYE HONEY! I’LL NEVER FORGET YOU!” As soon as the words escape my mouth I feel the burden escape as well. After that I see no point in staying up here. The descent takes no time, now that I’m not scared anymore. I jump to see Emily next to me. Her face clearly underlining her compassion. “That was great, Nick.” She says softly. “Who was the last one for?” “My daughter.” “Oh, so you were going to have a daughter?” “I don’t know. I never found out. But in my head I always saw myself having a daughter.” “That’s sweet.” “I guess it’s because I like the idea of having a girl to look after. They have a lot more innocence in them, I can barely trust guys.” “I only have the one niece and she’s a good example you could use in favor of your opinion.” “Oh yeah, she must have grown up a bit by now, right?” “Yes but she’s still as innocent as ever”. She says affectionately. “Always trusting, always sees the best in people.” “If only we could hold onto that notion”. I say, thinking of how my experiences have changed my outlook of the world. “But then again, we have to live and learn, I suppose.” “Seems like it. You certainly look as if you’re feeling a lot better.” She’s right, I am definitely feeling different and it’s a positive sensation, unlike how I’ve felt for a long time. I’m finally feeling something. The numbness that had stretched all the way within my body has evaporated, as if blown away by the cool breeze in the air. I see Emily standing in front of me. It’s like I’ve only just registered her presence for the first time tonight. Instantly, a rush of emotion surges inside of me dominated by shame. I’ve been so horrible with her. I felt so angry upon seeing her that I let myself get carried away, I definitely called her devoid of emotion. How could I have been such a jerk? Because she encouraged me to get married? Nick, you know for a fact it wouldn’t have mattered if she’d suggested otherwise. I’d been adamant over my decision. I blindly decided to pin it all on her. I let it out on her as well, screamed at her for hours, the things I said. I can’t believe it. She must think of me as the worst kind of friend. I betrayed her trust, I need to make it right. “You look like you’ve zonked out.” She snaps her fingers. “Actually, it’s the opposite, I’m finally seeing things clearly.” “Really? Because it looks like you’re feeling sleepy.” “I’m sorry”. I say sincerely. “What?” “I’m sorry.” “What for?” “You know what for, Emily”. I say, not playing along with her pretense. “I’m sorry.” “You don’t have to apologize. You weren’t thinking clearly.” “I am now, so… I’m sorry.” “You’ve said that already, Nick.” She says amusedly. “Now I think you really might be sleepy.” “Well, saying it once doesn’t feel enough.” I explain. “And I don’t really know what else to say.” “Want some help?” “I think I should figure something out by myself for a change”. I say as I fall on my knees and join my hands together. “Emily, I apologize for everything I said. I would like nothing better to keep trying till you forgive me. I kicked and screamed, abused and yelled. Most importantly, I betrayed your trust, you saw me as the one person who would never judge you and I failed at it. So for that and for all of it, I’m sorry. Will you please find it somewhere inside those metal cogs that run the engine inside of you to forgive me... Crap, I just remembered I call you a robot. Err… I’m sorry?” I end with a pout, in attempt to be cute, although with my disheveled appearance I might simply be coming across as creepy. She covers her face in embarrassment. “Honestly, Nick”, she says with a laugh, “You really go all out when you get going.” “So, do you forgive me?” “I don’t know”, she says sarcastically, “On the condition I don’t have to leave out the part where you bawled like a baby.” “If it gets you to forgive me.” “Alright, get up already”, she says, offering me her hand. I take it. “You do forgive me, right?” “Of course I do.” “I’m just going to pretend that never happened from now on.” I say, she smiles. “But really, are you ok now?” “Yes I am.” I reply honestly. “It’s strange, but I am. You know what? I’ve had enough of us talking about me, my problems, and my spirits being lifted. Let’s just move on. I want to know about you, it has been two years since we last met.” “That’s right. Two years, incredible how so much can happen in that time.” “So, tell me?” I ask, but I notice she looks apprehensive. I’ve known her long enough to know what that look means. I’m aware of Emily’s need for her privacy. She’s always been content with keeping our conversations tilted. “Where to begin?” She asks searchingly. “You don’t have to tell me.” I say openly. “I don’t want to impose.” “Really, Nick. It’s not an imposition. After all, you just told me all about your life.” “That was my choice. You didn’t force me.” “Actually, I did.” “You’re right, you did”. I say laughingly. “But whatever. I’m not going to force you.” “You’re not really giving me a chance to.” “Oh yeah, sorry”. I say. “I’ll just ask you, what’ve you been up to crossbeam queen?” “Where did you hear that name?” She asks quickly. “What?” I ask, slightly taken aback by her fast response. “You mean crossbeam queen?” “Yes, why did you call me that?” “It is your name after all, isn’t it?” “So you know?” She asks sheepishly. I smile at her reaction, she’s clearly embarrassed. I nod at her consolingly. “It’s okay, I would be embarrassed too if I’d been given a lame name like that.” I say, she slaps a hand on her forehead. “I know, right? How did you find out?” “They sell magazines worldwide. It wasn’t very hard.” “But it was in Architecture Weekly. Why were you reading that?” “I told you before. I tried to track you down. I really tried.” I say, she looks at me wide eyed. “Just kidding, I was at the barbershop. It was the only thing to read.” “Jerk”, she says, nudging me with her shoulder. “It’s not that lame.” “Yeah, because the name crossbeam queen has true star potential, doesn’t it?” “That I agree with but I didn’t pick the name.” “Out of curiosity, how did you get that name?” “I gave an interview about my proposal over crossbeams. The one I told you about at the library”. “Yeah, you wanted to make them wider so that labor hazards would be reduced and foundation of the buildings would be stronger.” “Nice, you do listen”, she says pleased. “The idea became a hit in the architectural community. The downside was the publicity and one of the journalists of architecture jokingly used the name during the interview and had it printed.” “I’m glad he did, it’s kind of catchy.” I say amusedly. “Nice to see you enjoyed it.” “It wasn’t a bad read, it was a surprise though to see you in a magazine.” “So you’ve known about it this whole time. That’s what you meant when you said I was too important to take your time.” “As you’re aware by now, I wasn’t in a good place so I just got annoyed you hadn’t mentioned me in the interview.” I say, rubbing my neck uncomfortably. “I did! I told the guy I decided to pitch the idea once I’d spoken to you at the library.” “Well, the magazine only stated you told ‘someone’. But it doesn’t matter”, I say waving my hand unaffectedly. “The magazine thing wasn’t that big for me anyway.” “Really?” “Actually it was”, she says smiling, “I was just kidding.” “You still need a little work on your humor. More specifically the duration of the joke, what was that, two seconds?” “Noted, I’ll remember to ask you for comedy lessons later on.” “Back to topic, how did affect your career? Did you get offer after offer?” “That’s one way of putting it. It was something else. My aspirations weren’t exactly sky high after my first job.” “You mean the guy who made you babysit?” “Thanks for reminding me that.” “Hey, at least it’s not as bad as giving your boss a heart attack. You were saying?” “Once the piece got published I had an outpour of offers. I’d been working freelance. During one of my jobs I pitched in this idea, they loved it, especially the publicity and offered me a full time job straight away but I told them I needed some time.” “Look at you calling the shots”, I say impressed. “It was fun, having the liberty of making my choice. There were a couple of really great offers, money wise. But all of them required me to move away or work extra hours.” “That shouldn’t be a problem for you. You love working.” “I suppose but most of them had a catch to go along with it, so it was tough. There was this one which I would’ve loved to accept but I couldn’t.” “Why not?” “It was in Argentina.” “Was the salary package not good enough to make up for the distance?” “No, the salary was more than generous.” She tells me the offer, causing my mouth to fall open. “Wow! That’s… well, I didn’t know architects could make that much.” I stutter. “Sounds to me like it would’ve been worth it to move to Argentina. Which one did you end up taking?” “The one where I was, the freelance job.” “That one? I can’t imagine them giving you a better deal than the others.” “Monetarily, you’re right. They weren’t even close but taking other factors into account, it was perfect for me.” “How so?” “I wouldn’t have to change much in my life.” She says. “I was already familiar with that office and all the people.” “That’s correct but you could’ve always moved back to where you were after a few years. You always were a career driven person but I’m sensing it was a different kind of factor.” I say. She looks at me with a sort of apprehensiveness. “Alright then, here’s the thing”. She says after a moment of hesitation. “The reason I turned down the Argentina job wasn’t because it was far away, actually that was the reason but there’s a reason behind that reason.” “That’s a lot of reasons”. I observe. “The main reason I didn’t move was… because I was in a relationship.” She says embarrassedly. I take a while to respond, she gave away a lucrative opportunity for someone. Now that’s a surprise. “Okay…what?” I ask scratching my head. “You’re telling me you chose a guy over your career?” “I didn’t choose him over my career, I chose him over moving to Argentina.” “Come on, you know going there would’ve turned your life around.” I argue. “Well, that’s just a difference of opinion.” “Sure, sure, I have a question though.” I say with amusement. “Who is this lucky man, may I ask?” “No, you may not.” “Why not?” I ask in surprise. “Because you’re just going to make fun of him.” She says crossly. “I know what you’re getting at.” “I won’t make fun of him. I promise. I just want to know who this miracle worker is. It’s sort of like ‘I, Robot.’ I didn’t know you were programmed to feel love.” I joke. “See, there you go making fun of me.” “I promised not to make fun of him. I’m entitled to make fun of you.” “Well, then I’m not telling you who it is.” “Alright, I’m sorry.” I give in. “I won’t make fun of you. I’m just really surprised, that’s all. It’s quite an achievement. Who can make Emily believe she can like someone that way?” “Who at all?” She asks softly, looking at me in a much gentler way than I’m used to. The tenderness with which she spoke makes me smile which she returns. We remain like this for a moment in silence with only the sound of the sea to accompany us. “Who then?” I ask, breaking the silence. She shakes her head, as if returning from a trance. “So you won’t make fun of me or him?” “Yes, I won’t.” I swear. “Now would you get around to telling me who it is? I’m starting to think you made him up.” “Okay, it’s Guy”. She says. I wait around for her to elaborate which she doesn’t. “Eh?” I ask stupidly. “That’s it? It’s a guy? Now I’m sure you made him up, you couldn’t even think of a fake name.” “No, dummy. His name is Guy.” “Oh. So how’d you meet him?” “You know, I told you.” “This is the first time I’ve ever heard of him.” I say, racking my brain to recall any mention of him. “It’s not, I told you about him at the library.” “Oh… OH!” I shout out. “The guy you met in Oman?” “The guy I met in Oman.” She repeats patiently. “You’re being serious, right? The guy you spent the rest of your trip with and used an unbelievably cheap line on you that didn’t work?” “Yes, the same and it wasn’t lame, I just didn’t appreciate it at the time.” “The guy who you begged you to go out with him at the club?” “He didn’t beg though, he simply persisted.” “The guy you dated for a while before dumping because he didn’t fit your description of a companion?” “I’ll just give you a clear answer”. She says. “Yes! But I never dumped him, we parted ways.” “All of this is the same guy and his name is Guy? That’s…” I start, Emily looks at me carefully, waiting for my opinion. “That’s freaking funny!” I laugh out loud. “Why is that funny?” She asks, hitting me on the arm. “I’m sorry. But, he’s the guy you dated, the guy you broke up with. The guy you picked over Argentina and…his name is Guy!” I begin laughing again, unable to control myself. “You’re so stupid.” Emily says laughing. “You’re laughing, too.” “I’m just laughing because of the way you are.” She says still amused. “You’re right, it’s not funny. I shouldn’t laugh”. I say but it’s been so long since I’ve laughed at all, I’ve missed it. Even if it is at something so stupid. “You’re such a child.” “Ok, look. I’ve stopped now”. I squeeze my mouth with my hand. “No more laughing.” She looks at me crossly for a while before shaking her head in amusement and breaking down in giggles herself which sends me back to laughing as well. For the next several minutes we simply stay this way, if there was anyone else on the beach they must have thought we’d lost it. “You know what I’ve noticed?” She asks me during out bout of laughter. “We always have this one time when we laugh for no reason.” “Wait, I thought the reason was because Guy’s name is ridiculous.” I say, she hits me again. “Ouch, just kidding. Yeah, you’re right but we shouldn’t look too much into it, it kills the joke once you think on it. Thinking and joking do not mix.” “Then let’s not think. At least that’s what I’m accustomed to when I’m with you.” “People say I can’t be taken seriously. I wonder why.” I say sarcastically. “I meant it as a good thing.” She says defensively. “I like not thinking, it’s so rare for me.” “It used to be pretty rare for me to think until I got married. After that I just wanted a few moments where I could just stop listening to the voices in my head.” “Well, hopefully your mind goes empty again”. She says jokingly. “Amen to that.” I concur. “I don’t care what other people say; it is fun to be stupid.” “You’re not stupid. You were just in love.” “I think it’s alright to be stupid if you’re in love. Although I’m not sure if that was, in fact, what I was. What about you?” “What about me?” “Are you stupid?” “That’s not a very nice thing to ask.” “You know what I’m asking, about Guy.” “It’s not easy to answer your question.” “It’s simple, do you feel stupid when you’re around him?” “That question is so stupid I won’t even bother answering it.” “It’s a legitimate question. There are certain people that just make you feel stupid.” “Like?” “Like you?” “You think I make people feel stupid?” “Not people, I’m talking about me”. I tell her, when she looks confused, I clarify. “You’re not getting it, are you?” “No, not really.” “There are certain people in a person’s life that make them think differently”. I explain. This idea of mine is just something I’ve thought up but it makes sense to tell Emily. “They don’t necessarily turn you stupid but when you’re with them you definitely aren’t like you would be with someone else. It’s just that particular person who can turn you like that. In this context, I believe when people are in love, they don’t think clearly but it also makes sense. With me and Leah, the problem was I wasn’t thinking clearly but it didn’t make sense either and we probably needed both.” “Alright, so your theory applies to people not just in relationships?” “Yes.” “Then who else comes under this theory when you say only certain people fit in.” “To tell you the truth, you’re one of them.” “Really?” She asks, seeming surprised but interested as well. “How so?” “It’s kind of funny”. I hesitate, I’ve never told her how I think when I’m around her, “I feel sort of stupid when I talk to you, and it’s not because you’re smart but something else.” “I don’t make you uncomfortable or anything, do I?” She asks quickly. “It’s nothing like that.” I clear out. “I just think a lot when I talk to you because I’m never sure what you’re thinking.” “Oh, that’s interesting”. She says smiling. “Mine is the opposite but still pretty much the same. When I talk to you I feel like I can tell what you’re thinking, but I kind of feel stupid too.” “Why do you feel stupid? I feel that way because I’m not used to thinking, usually.” “Because I don’t think when I’m with you and that’s something I’m not accustomed to, I’m not that sort of person. I feel like someone else, someone stupid.” “Wow.” “Yeah, so we both become the opposite of our usual selves yet feel the same way?” “I think so. See? You got me thinking again.” “Sorry about that.” She apologizes jokingly. “I would know what to say but I can’t really think of anything.” We both laugh. “Don’t think you were able to switch the topic. I haven’t forgotten.” “Forgotten what?” “The original question, of course.” “I did answer that. I told you it’s not easy to answer. I’ll have to think about it.” “I think you missed the point.” I say smiling. “Stupid people don’t think.” “I don’t know what to tell you, Nick”. She says tetchily. “You’re asking a question I’m not sure how to answer.” “Okay, don’t worry. It’s not a test, I was just wondering.” “I just meant…” She lingers apologetically. “It’s alright. You can give the answer to Guy. Wow, I can’t even say his name with a straight face.” “Would you stop? This is my fiancé you’re making fun of.” She says lightly. “I think I should defend him a little, I haven’t done a good job at it so far.” She shuts me right up. I look at her questioningly for a further response but she seems busy with looking stunned with herself. “Umm, did you just call him your fiancé?” I ask slowly. She looks as if she’d like nothing more than to be drifted away with the breeze. “Did I?” “I think you did.” “You heard right”. She laughs nervously but gives in under my curious stare. “He’s my fiancé.” “You got engaged?” I ask, still unsure somehow. “He hasn’t actually proposed yet.” “Guy has given you a ring, right?” My eyes travel to her hand to make sure she hasn’t been wearing it the entire time. “I know what an engagement is.” She says impatiently. “I found the ring, or rather I found him with the ring. I walked in on him rehearsing his proposal. I pretended to not understand what he was doing.” “Because being on the ground on one knee with a ring in hand can mean anything, right?” “You know what, I don’t feel like talking about this.” She says annoyed, getting up from her spot and walking away to the shore. “And why is that?” I ask, following her. “Because it’s not a joking matter.” “I never said it was.” I assure her as we stroll along, both of us too distracted to notice the icy water touching our feet. “You were going to get to that, weren’t you?” “I think I’m too confused with the situation to be making jokes, Emily.” “What’s there to be confused about?” She asks apathetically. “So I’m engaged, big deal.” “Hello? It is a big deal you’re engaged.” I say impatiently. “I’m trying to figure out why you forget to mention! You had the entire night to tell me.” “No, Nick! I didn’t” She says hotly. “Have you forgotten those long hours when you were shouting at me?” “But still-“ “And it’s some big talk coming from you.” She snaps. “If I recall correctly we spent an entire day at the library when I found out you were engaged.” “That’s right but-“ “And not only were you engaged, you were about to be married in a month.” “Alright…” “Plus it wasn’t you who told me. It was joe79’s offline message to arch82 which did.” “Uh…” My sentence trails uncomfortably. “So, what was it you were saying? I didn’t tell you about my proposal which I’m not even supposed to know about?” She asks fiercely. “I guess it slipped my mind.” “Fair enough.” I concede, mainly because she has a highly valid point but also because I don’t want to be shouted at further, there must be something about me which makes women so mad. “What I meant to say was…” “Uh huh?” She asks, continuing her piercing stare. “That doesn’t matter anymore”. She brushes me off, trotting away. “Okay, fine. I guess I have no right to put you at fault for not telling. It’s just that… I thought you would tell me when the day came.” I say, now almost running to stay by her side. Why is she in such a hurry? And why is she suddenly so irritated? “I don’t know what you want from me, Nick.” “How about a ‘Hey Nick, I’m so psyched, I just found out I’m getting engaged!’” I spell it out. She looks at me oddly. “I’m not the kind of person to give that reaction.” “I know but I thought you’d at least be that way with me.” “Why did you think that?” “You know why. Remember all the way ‘You’re a robot jokes’?” “Vividly.” She says, racing away. “So? Don’t you have something to say about that now?” “Not really.” “Alright, just hold on.” I say, sprinting to stop in front of her. “Where do you think you’re running off to?” “Nowhere, I just got tired of sitting.” She says defensively. “Okay, but how about we talk about your upcoming proposal?” “How about no?” She asks rhetorically before attempting to scurry off once more, I block her path quickly. “Alright, alright.” I say. “For some reason you don’t want to talk about that but don’t you want to at least celebrate it?” “If you want me to start jumping around up and down then forget it.” “I just always thought you’d love to rub my nose in the fact that you can take it to the next level.” “Well, I don’t want to.” “Fine, can we at least talk about how you got here? I don’t even know when you two got back together. Come sit”. I say, motioning her toward the dry sand, she chooses to sit on the wet mud instead. “Or we can dirty our clothes, whatever.” “What do you want to know?” “About you and him.” I tell her. At least she doesn’t seem bothered talking about this. It’s the proposal which is a touchy topic. “Well, the last time I told you about him. He and I had just broken up. Almost immediately after that, I met you at the library.” “Oh, so was I responsible for getting you two back together?” I joke in an attempt to lighten the mood. The way she’s talking about her fiancé, she might as well be telling me about a funeral. “I got a call while I was talking to you.” She continues, disregarding my comment. “It was him.” “When was it again? I don’t recall you picking up your phone.” “It was while you were telling me about your wedding. I didn’t pick up and wasn’t going to talk to him but I wasn’t in the best of spirits after I talked to you.” She looks up at me quickly for a second before continuing on, I’m unsure whether she’ll want to keep going if I ask her why she felt that way at the time so don’t inquire on that subject. “So you called him back?” “He never stopped calling. I gave in when I became concerned whether he was in trouble.” “And was he?” “He told me he didn’t understand why I ended things.” “So you did dump him?” I ask, unable to help myself. “I didn’t dump him.” She echoes her previous claim. “At that time I didn’t see us together, that’s all.” “It depends on how you see it, I guess”. I say, under her irate stare I add. “That’s just my opinion, go on.” “Anyway, at first I told him I didn’t want to get back together but he insisted so much over the next few days I agreed to meet him for lunch.” She says shaking her head. “The reason I met him was to get him to stop calling me.” “Then what got you to take him back, then?” I ask, thinking Guy must have done something pretty romantic for her to accept him again. “I’m getting to it.” She says lazily. I note to myself to ask her why she’s so uninterested in this because I would’ve thought things would be different now. “Alright, you met him for lunch. Then?” “He went straight to the point, saying he didn’t like the way we ended.” She goes on with the story. “He tried to persuade me to try it again, I was reluctant to because I honestly didn’t think it was a good idea and was unemployed as well so I had those things to focus on. He shifted the topic to that.” I bet he did. I think to myself, Guy was so cliché, I remember Emily telling me about how he’d tried the good guy act when they were in Oman as well. But I don’t voice my views to her. “He offered to try and find a job for me after he’d heard all of it.” “Rookie mistake.” I say, Emily wouldn’t have like the idea of someone trying to help her put with her job search, part of the whole concept of being her own person. “That it was.” She nods, knowing I’d figured her response. “You weren’t too hard on him, were you?” “I wasn’t but made it clear I didn’t need him to look out for me, partly because I knew he only wanted to help so that I’d take him back.” She says. “Later, while I was working freelance, I got the opportunity to pitch my idea to them, it was the first time anyone had gotten it so easily, I went to thank him and found out why he did that.” “I have a feeling Guy will be making a reappearance in this story.” “Yes, but Guy maintains he never knew it was my idea, he’d read it anonymously and loved it. It was only when he saw me that he knew. So it was because of him that I achieved all the publicity.” “How did he get there?” I ask confusedly. “Did he work there?” “No, he has a stake in the company, Guy’s an investor. He comes from a rich family.” “Man, that guy really wanted you back, didn’t he?” “He never used it as the reason, never even brought it up.” “Until?” I ask, sure of Guy’s next move. Emily sighs at the accuracy of my guesses. “He came up to me and asked me out.” “And you accepted? How were things different from before?” “Of course they were different.” She claims. “I was there because of him, it was his approval that got me there.” “Still, he could’ve just planned it all.” I say carefully. “I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt. I felt like I owed him that much at least.” “So, lunch again?” “No, this time it was dinner.” She says with a smile. “And this time he did try to go make a gesture, took me to a high class place, music, setting, it was all there.” “So there’s a flicker of romanticism in you after all, huh?” I tease her. “Good old Guy took a shot and it paid off.” “I wouldn’t say I didn’t enjoy it but that wasn’t it which got me considering us again.” “What did the poor sucker have to do for you to take him back?” “Hey, I never interrupted you during your story.” She says crossly. “Sorry, it’s just that you played hard to get for so long I’ve found myself rooting for him. What happened at dinner?” “Guy asked me again to give it another shot. This time I told him I’d think about it.” “He goes through all that and you tell him you’ll think about it.” I feel flabbergasted. “It was hard for me to know for sure he was right for me. I didn’t want him wasting his time on me.” “Fine, so what got you to decide he was right?” I ask in exasperation. “I couldn’t make a decision so I asked my mother.” “Really, you run these things by her?” “Not all the details but this matter needed some added emphasis so I asked her opinion.” “Added emphasis.” I repeat her words. “First time I’ve heard anyone talk about a relationship like that.” “To you these things might be different but this is how I think.” “Ok then. To each their own.” I back off before she gets irritated. “What did your mom say?” “She told me to go with my heart.” “I bet that helped.” I say with a laugh. “Judging by your reaction I’m sure you know that didn’t help.” “But did you go with your heart?” I ask to make sure, she did give me the same advice and look how that turned out. “I don’t know… I just didn’t understand her, when I agreed with her she told me to look at it a different way. Whether Guy was the kind of person who could keep me secure or look out for me.” “Did he qualify for those criteria’s?” “Yes he did. So I contacted him again and there it is. That’s how we got back together.” “Interesting story. But when did the whole moving to Argentina part come in?” “That was a few weeks ago, I got the offer but I knew I’d have to leave him again. All the chances I got were because of him, I’d have to be the most selfish person to have to accept the job and move away.” “Did you tell him you turned it down for him?” “I did. To show his gratitude over it he surprised me by bringing me here for the weekend.” “Hold on a minute.” I say in surprise. “You mean to tell me you’re staying here?” “You see that house just at the end of this beach?” She points it out. I look at the direction she’s pointing at. It’s the house whose lights had been bothering me at the start of the night. “He’s in there? So why are you out here?” “I couldn’t sleep.” “You found out he was going to propose.” I say, putting the pieces together. “Just before he brought you out here. He’s going to propose tomorrow, isn’t he?” “I think so.” She says, looking up at me in what looks like a gloomy expression. “Well, congratulations I guess.” I wish her awkwardly. I would have said it with more cheerfulness but if she doesn’t seem so excited about it then I don’t think I should be either. Besides, I don’t feel any surge of happiness within me, as it is. I have no idea what that’s about. It could be because of my own problems which I still have to deal with. Talking to Emily tonight has definitely lifted my spirits but I can’t ignore the things I have to focus on once the night ends, judging by the color of the sky it won’t be long now. “Thanks.” She says, still seeming crestfallen. “Can I ask you something?” I ask, unable to control myself. I have to clarify why her reaction to getting engaged is the same as getting hanged. “Did you think it over before deciding you would say yes?” “What do you mean?” “Well, you called him your fiancé even though he hasn’t asked you yet. So you’ve decided to accept his proposal.” “Yes I have.” “So you thought about it?” “It makes the most sense.” She says unconvincingly. “I gave up a great opportunity in Argentina for him. I should have expected he’d ask me sooner or later.” “So you’re happy with it?” “It’s not about being happy. It’s about what makes the most sense.” She says averting my eyes. “And being with Guy seems like the best choice.” “Seems like the best choice?” I repeat her words curiously. She still thinks this way, whether an option is more feasible than the other? It doesn’t sound like she’s getting engaged, more like signing an agreement. “Yes, I think it is. I still have to think something.” “What’s that, now?” “You know what I mean.” She says angrily. “I’m going for it because I think it’s the sensible thing to do.” “Maybe it is.” I press on. Her aloofness to the matter’s getting to me for some reason. “But you still didn’t answer the question.” “I just did, Guy’s the practical choice for me and I’m going to say yes.” “No, my question was, are you happy?” “It doesn’t matter if I am, Nick.” She says impatiently. “It’s not like I can just pick anyone to be with me, I don’t have that luxury and Guy wants to be with me so I have to stay with him.” “It is about being happy. It’s about how you feel, remember what that is?” I ask intensely. “I’ll ask you again, do you feel happy about getting engaged to him?” “That’s such a stupid question to ask.” Her voice cracks. “Funny, how the most stupid questions turn out to be right ones.” “I think I’ve had enough of these ridiculous questions now.” She says irately, getting up. “Alright fine, don’t answer those questions.” I call out behind her. “Answer this one. Do you love him?” She stops dead in her tracks. Unmoving, as if paralyzed with fright. I wait for her to answer although strangely this is one of the rare times I’m sure I know what she’s thinking. “I’ve been with him for a long time.” Comes her reply, confirming my hunch. “So, that’s a no.” I say, she turns around, looking more furious than I’ve seen her before. “You don’t have any idea, Nick!” She shouts. “You don’t know what… I don’t have a choice, it’s the best I can get! I can’t trap myself again…” “Look, I don’t know what you’re talking about it.” I say to her straight. “Maybe something happened with you before but I’m only trying to help.” “But you’re not! Don’t you realize you’re doing the complete opposite?” “You said you didn’t want to be trapped but it’s pretty clear you’re about to step into one.” “You don’t know what I did… I can’t let myself go again.” She says with tears in her eyes. “Okay, alright”. I falter at the sight of her, she’s always been such a closed book but I never wanted her to be sad, I wanted the opposite. An Emily who was happy with her life. Who didn’t think that she had such a huge burden on her shoulders over one thing or another. “I won’t say anything more if it’s too much for you.” “It is. I can’t bear to think about it.” She cries, he face buried deeply into her palms. “I’m not going to ask you what happened.” I assure her, I don’t think it’ll help like it did with me. “T-thank you.” She hiccups. “It’s no problem”. I say understandingly. “I’m sorry you had to see me like that.” “It’s okay, I guess I had it coming. I suppose I was out of line.” “Maybe, but you weren’t wrong.” She says quietly, finally looking at me again. Their “About what?” “About me and Guy.” I tell him, working up the courage to reveal how I really feel about the matter. “I’m not sure.” “You’re not sure you want to marry him or not sure you love him?” He asks carefully. “Both.” I admit. “Oh, I’m sorry. Part of me wished I was wrong.” “Part of me wishes too.” “And the other part?” He asks, I look up at him, how is he asking all the right questions tonight? “It…wishes I knew how I felt. Because you were right, I don’t know. I don’t know what I feel, I haven’t felt for the past two years. Not when I got published, when I was getting all those offers, not when I got back together with Guy and not even when I found out he was proposing to me. The last time I felt anything was when I met you at the library and the next when I met you tonight.” “What are you saying?” He asks curiously. “I’m saying…” I pause in midsentence as I see his face, understanding. I don’t want it to change into something else, not like the one I’d seen long ago, I don’t want to take that chance, not with Nick. “Never mind, forget it.” “No, I want to know.” He insists. “Emily, something’s bothered you for a long time and you’ve never told me about it, maybe if you did-“ “It’s nothing, Nick. Besides, that’s not what I was talking about.” “Then what was it?” “It was about Guy.” I shift the focus away to the other pressing matter, I don’t want to discuss this either but Nick won’t let go until I talk about something. “Everything you’ve asked me. Everything I’ve answered, it’s all a blur. I think I need some sleep to figure it out.” “Or something to divert your attention.” “Exactly.” “Too bad we don’t have those Harry Potter books to talk about anymore.” I joke, making her smile slightly. “Yeah, too bad.” “Cheer up.” I say to her, the curiosity about her feelings and the need to make her confront them is still burning in me but right now she needs some reassurance. “You’ll find your silver lining. The night’s always darkest before dawn, right?” I point upwards, the first rays of light attempt to break through the clouds. “That’s right.” She says, giving me a slight nudge. “Thanks by the way.” “For what?” “For listening. I realize I may have gone on a lot about myself.” “Are you kidding me? I’d say the night passed away on me. Boy, can I whine.” “You sure can, actually.” She laughs. “Thanks, I’m glad you enjoyed it.” “I hope you enjoyed mine.” “I sure did.” I say jokingly. “So is that the end of feelings hour?” “More like feelings night.” “You’re right, this was way more deep than we’ve gotten before.” “Although the part where you shouted from the top of the mount was funny.” “That actually was.” I say smiling. “Felt nice to let go of things.” “So, are you doing alright? About Leah and everything else?” “I’d say I’m better. But there are a lot of things that I have to figure out, it’s time I take back some control of my life. I hope I get it done, in spite of all the losses, some of which hurt more than anything I ever thought possible.” I sigh, thinking about the child I’ll never see, the brother I’ll never get to apologize to. “I think, it was about time I let go, it’s time I stop clinging to the past and look to the future.” “That’s great. Really, it is.” “Thank you, I just hope I don’t regress.” “You won’t.” I say with surety. “Have faith in me, do you?” “I do.” I say, hoping to mask the envy I feel of how he’s relinquished himself from his past. “I wish I could, too.” “You will. You’re not stupid like me.” “After talking to you I feel like being stupid is way better than being smart.” I say affectionately, Nick’s going back to his method of making me feel better. I appreciate it so much when he does things like that. “Do you?” “Yes, at least I feel something when I’m stupid. I just wish… I could feel… something.” “It’ll be alright, Emily.” I say understandingly, patting her hand. She grasps mine, holding on firmly. I stroke it affectionately and am surprised when she does the same. The unexpectedness by which it happens causes me to turn sideways to look at her. She’s looking at me in an entirely different way. Eyelids almost closed, breath heaving, lips pursed… “Just… something”. She whispers as she draws closer, close enough for me to see how clear her skin is, her blushing cheeks, her lips, as her eyes finally close completely… “Uh, what are you doing?” I draw back. Her face comes into clear view once again. “I…” Her eyes open. A second later they widen in horror. “I… I’m not…” “Look, Emily. We’ve both had a pretty rough night and I don’t think it’s a good idea, I mean, you’re fiancé’s right there in the beach house.” “My…?” Her eyes travel over to the beach house. “Yeah, plus it’s me, Nick. You and I, we’re not… you know, like that.” I say as gently as I can. “I’m sure you’ll see it the same way once you get some sleep.” “I… I think I shouldn’t have.” “It’s alright, don’t worry about it.” I say quickly. Clearly she was going for a mistake. She’s a treasured friend, and to a certain extent I have feelings for her too but not like this. The thought’s never even struck me. I doubt she’s thought that way before, either. “I’m sorry.” I apologize nervously. “I don’t know what I was thinking, actually I wasn’t. It was the first thing that… I’m sorry.” “It’s fine.” He assures me. “Let’s pretend it never happened”. The last remnants of the flair I felt fade away as I hear him say that. “It never happened.” “See? No harm.” He says in relief. “So you want me to walk you back?” The sun frees itself from the clouds and shines directly at my face, I cover it with my hand seeing Nick clearly and the house right behind him as well, now’s the moment when I can tell him unmistakably whether I want to continue pretending or stop thinking once and for all. “I think I’ll be heading back, Guy’s probably awake by now.” “So, have you decided on telling him?” “Telling him what?” “What we talked about, of course. How you don’t feel anything towards him”. “Oh, that. You know what, I think I made a mistake, I guess I was just sleepy. Truth is, I do want to marry him and I’m going to say yes.” “What? But you said you-“ “Forget what I said.” I tell him shortly. “I wasn’t thinking right.” “It’s not about thinking-” “Look, Nick. That might work for you but this is how I am. I think and I can’t stop it. It’s the way I’m supposed to be. I’ll be going now.” I say turning away. “You take care.” “Emily!” He calls out but I keep moving on. I can’t believe I did that. It was in that one moment I felt so vulnerable, it felt right. But instead I’ve ruined things between us. It’s incredible how only hours ago I’d been out here trying to get him to figure his life out and now I’m the one who has no idea what to do. The sun hides itself back amongst the clouds but I don’t bother looking up to try and find my silver lining. Chapter Six - 2011- His Here we are! The great escape is almost complete, it’s unbelievable that I am finally here. The airport. I seem to be wearing my graduation goggles as I feel the attachment with this place growing. I even have a bit of fondness for my driver. “It was good having you around.” “I don’t know what sort of vibe I was giving out to you but I have a wife.” “No, I’m not…” I splutter. A simple goodbye wasn’t too much to ask for let alone questioning my orientation. Although considering the fact that I haven’t had a date in pretty much forever would raise a few concerns. It’s not like I haven’t had a few opportunities, there was Ruth, she practically threw herself at me at that fundraiser although it could have been her pills acting up, eighty year olds need to be careful with their meds. May she rest in peace. I proceed inside the departure lounge. Even with all the technological advancement through the years I’ve always felt compelled to do something more grounded at the airport. It’s never felt appealing to whip my phone out. Phone companies have accomplished in mind controlling the human population. I see a group of teenagers with their heads buried in their phones, youngsters these days barely communicate with each other. Man, didn’t I sound like a thousand, right there? Come on, Nick. You’re not even thirty years old yet. Let those teenagers do whatever they want, when I was their age I used to flaunt my Walkman around at whomever I could. I notice two children attacking each other over angry birds, contemplate breaking up their fight but the memory of the incident I had on the airport years ago creeps up and I do nothing. A girl approaches and, to my surprise, the kids stop fighting. Impressed, I go over to her. “That was a nice thing you did. What did you say to them?” “I told them the airport officer would give them candy if they learned to share.” “That’s clever but don’t you think they’ll start fighting again once they realize that’s not true?” “I would never lie”, the girl says scandalized, “My uncle works here, he’ll give them the candy.” “How about a few toffees yourself?” I say, taking out the chocolates I had in my bag. “I’m not supposed to take candy from strangers”, she steps back frightened, “Uncle Mike!” The girl runs away, I pause for an instant, comprehending what just happened before running away myself. Well, that settles it, no giving candy to children at the airport, ever. I duck into a bookstore to hide. This takes me back ten years previously when I’d been in a similar place trying to find a girl to hit on, I chuckle at the memory. Being a teenager was so simple, the world outside seemed so open, ready for the taking. It certainly isn’t easy. I’ve had a decade to find that out but there was something very admirable about that youngster, so self-confident that nothing seemed impossible, whether it was smart or dumb. It makes me sort of nostalgic, like I’ve lost touch with a younger brother. I shake my head to brush it off. It’s best if I distract myself, I spot an interesting book. For a second, I imagine how my nineteen year old self would react to see me buying a book to read. Smirking slightly, I approach the counter to pay. Where’s my bag? Smacking myself on the head, I recollect leaving it back at the place with the little girl. “Excuse me, do you have The Hunger Games?” A woman to my side asks the person at the counter. Her voice makes me do a double turn. It has to be her! “I’m sorry, this gentleman’s about to buy the last copy”, the seller tells her, she turns back, allowing me to see her face in the mirror, the face I’ll never forget, after having seen it up so close, Emily. It’s like déjà vu how I’ve picked up the last copy of another book she wants. Something’s never change. “Umm, are you buying that?” “Uh, no, you can have it”, I reply attempting to change my voice, back turned at her. I hold out the book behind me. She takes the book awkwardly and leaves. That was scarier than losing my bag. Dammit! The bag. I charge out of the store but on reaching the spot I’d left it, don’t see it. I can contact airport security for this matter. I find the security office only to see Emily standing by the door. Now there’s quite a dilemma, it’s never simple and at this moment things just got a lot tougher. Her Wow! That man was nice enough to hand over his copy. I think back to ten years ago when I had been in a similar position. On that occasion the last book had eluded me thanks to a certain someone. Strange how something’s remain the same even though the person might have changed. One thing’s for sure, my tried and tested method to distract myself on the plane will definitely work regardless of whether I read this book or not. Looking down at the name of the author I can’t help but wonder how she and countless others had left their respective careers to pursue this path. There was something very admirable about these people, to take the risk for the slightest possibility that one day a person like me would be holding their book in my hands. I doubt I could ever drop my profession to become an author considering I’m not exactly a big risk taker. “Aunt Emily!” I hear a voice, freeing me from my deluge of thoughts. Of all the things that have changed in the past ten years, she’s definitely one I’m glad for. “Now where have you been this entire time?” I ask my niece. “You know, around.” “And where might around be?” “There, there and there”, she says pointing to all the places she’d gone. “Little wiseacre, aren’t you?” “You asked me where I’d been, so I told you”, she replies making me laugh. My niece has been getting sharper by the day. I just hope she doesn’t use it against me later on. I would hate for her to not enjoy my company. “You better stay this cute when I visit next time.” “Can’t you stay?”She asks pouting, giving me the round eyed innocent look. “Aunt Emily’s got a job, you know that.” “You can get a job at my school.” “My work’s a little different than teaching.” “You really love your job, don’t you?” “You’ve grown quite a bit. Aunt Emily’s hand’s starting to hurt.” I say putting her down. She sticks out her tongue playfully at my remark and scrams away. I don’t bother to follow, it’s not like we’re here alone. But I am going to miss time with my family. Odd, as long as I can remember I couldn’t wait to get things started, whether it was studies or work. Yet, now I feel a sort of laziness. Do I love my job? Anything beats paint falling on my head, and I’ve been getting the just appreciation for my efforts. It should’ve been easy to answer her question. I knock on my head. The vacation must’ve gotten to me. What I need at the moment is an outlet for my thoughts. Too bad I don’t have anyone to tell these bothers to, I haven’t seen the person I usually shared my problems with in two years and it’s not like he’s going to stroll right here to listen to them. I check my phone for a second. The background reflection shows, I glimpse at it to be taken by surprise. Nick! I spin around to spot him appearing from behind a pillar and hurrying away. What is he doing here? Catching a flight obviously. I really hope it’s not the same as mine. I should’ve known better, he always had a way of presenting himself every time my mind wandered over to him. Cursing myself, I take a peek from behind the seats I hid in to see the coast clear and hurry towards the departure lounge. I reach the lounge to find it empty, save for a few teenagers immersed into their phones. That was close, I wonder over what Nick’s reaction would’ve been to see me, how his life is now, whether he was able move on from the unfortunate events of his past. I’d like to think he did but there’s no way I’m going to go over and talk to him. My attempts to push him out of my mind fail, though I can’t blame myself for it, after all, I didn’t get over what happened at the beach overnight. Even more so of my feelings for him. Stupid Nick, had to ruin things for me. I’m going to stay right here where I don’t run into him by accident. I forgot about my niece, I can’t leave without saying goodbye to her. Time to go sneaky again. Their I approach the security office with caution, on the chance she decides to come by again but the room’s empty. I notice my bag. Finally, some good luck. I prepare to leave the room. She’s not around here anywhere. Suddenly it hits me; of course she would’ve gone there. I hurry over to the office, opening the door hard in my urgency. I only just get to the door when it bangs open, fortunately, I manage to shield my face with the bag although still fall back onto a chair. A frantic looking woman’s face looks at me in astonishment. “Hi”, I say sheepishly, ruffling my hair, as Emily realizes it’s me, her mouth slightly open, clearly surprised. “Hi”, says Emily after some deliberation. “Didn’t expect to find me here? I didn’t either, even less to get hit in the face by the door.” “I hope I didn’t hurt you. With the door, I mean. So… how come you’re here?” “Because of this sneaky thing”, I pat the bag on my lap, “It got away. And you?” “I was looking for my niece.” “And I thought I had a problem with misplacing things.” “No, it’s not that”, she says smiling, the door opens again before she says the rest, the little girl appears. “It’s the strange man!” she says frantically, pointing at me. “What?” Emily asks in surprise. “You told me strange men gave kids candy to kidnap them.” “Now, now, little girl”, I say embarrassedly, “That’s not what I was doing.” “Stay away”, the girl tries to hide behind Emily. “It’s not like that, there were two other kids…wait, that sounds even worse. Actually- Err.” “Really, Nick?” Emily asks laughing, “You tried to give candy to kids again, did you forget the last time?” “Nice, hope you had your little fun.” I say laughing as well. “Why are you talking to him?” The little girl asks earnestly. “And may I ask who you might be?” “This is my niece”, Emily tells me happily, “Alicia, meet Nick.” “Oh so this is your niece”, I say surveying the girl, “Nice to finally meet you, Alicia, I’ve heard a lot about you, so has Aunt Emily ever mentioned me before?” “Ya”, Alicia says sprightly, “You’re the one who left-“ “He seems to be in a hurry, so let’s not keep him”, Emily cuts her off quickly. “Goodbye, it’s nice to see Aunt Emily with a boyfriend, she doesn’t have any.” “She means a friend who’s a boy.” “Oh”, I say recovering, “Well, I’ve been Aunt Emily’s boyfriend for ten years.” “Excuse me?” A strong voice comes from the doorway which we hadn’t noticed had opened again, this time a tall well-built man stands there. “Did I hear you say you’re her boyfriend?” “No, it’s not that…” “Who is this, Emily? Is he bothering you two?” “No, no, this is my friend Nick.” “Oh”, says the man, while I wonder who he is in the first place. I step forward to shake his hand which he doesn’t take. “Can I have a word?” The man says to Emily, ignoring me and taking her aside. I turn to Alicia who motions towards him apprehensively. “Uncle Kyle gets very angry when boys are around Aunt Emily, maybe that’s why she doesn’t have any boyfriends.” “I’m sure it is”, I say, her brother’s huge. She couldn’t have gotten a boyfriend if she had wanted one, not with this guy around. “Has Uncle Kyle ever gotten particularly angry with anyone?” “My mom told me he beat a guy once when he-“ I don’t get the chance to wonder which guy it was as Emily’s voice loudly rings out the room just then. “It’s not like that! You’re wasting his time”, she says and joins us while Kyle follows angrily. “How long till your plane boards, Nick?” “Almost about time actually.” “Mine too, so let’s get going then.” “Say goodbye to him, Alicia”, Kyle tells her. “His name’s Nick, I met him before Aunt Emily, he tried to give me candy.” “He did what?” “It was nice meeting you”, I say quickly and dash out before he gets a chance to add me to his beaten up list. It doesn’t take me long to find Nick once I say goodbye to Kyle and Alicia and head to the departure lounge. Something tells me he’s not here by mistake. “Are you sure you’re in the right place?” “This is an airport, right? I haven’t accidently come to the train station, have I?” “So you’re still not inclined to give straight answers, are you?” “Not as much as before actually, but I tend to regress when I get the bejesus scared out of me.” “He got to you, did he?” “Nah, he didn’t.” “Really?” “Nah, he did.” “I’m sorry about that but he’s very protective of me and it’s not like he’s very used to seeing me with guys.” “I get it, he’s only looking out for you. And might I say, doing a heck of a job.” “I hope it wasn’t that bad.” “I’m just kidding. So, I take it you’re not in the wrong place either?” “Not even if I wanted it to be.” “It looks like we’re going to be stuck with each other for a while then.” “Seems like it”. I say, ‘stuck’ being a very appropriate word. “Just as well, it was about time, anyway.” “What do you mean?” “It has been two years, you know? About the time it takes for the two of us to meet again.” “Not really, we met after four years the first time, when I met you at that club, it was only a year after we met in Oman.” “Forget about my theory. I’ll just stick with the usual what’s up?” “And I’ll respond with the obligatory nothing much.” “But seriously though, what’s up?” “Actually there really hasn’t been much, to tell you the truth. Just a continuation with whatever was going on the last time.” “I don’t mind listening to the rest of the story.” “I’ll be sure to get to that but what about you?” I ask rather hesitatingly, he might feel embarrassed if things haven’t looked up since our previous meeting. “You mean if my life’s changed from self-loathing and attempted suicide?” “Well, that’s one way of putting it”, I say, feeling uneasy myself now at his forthrightness. “It could only go up from there. They’re about to start boarding.” We stand at the queue. Nick goes before me, a few moments later it’s my turn but he doesn’t step away. “Is something wrong?” I ask him. “No, I just thought it’d be quicker if I helped you out.” “Actually, you can help me”, I say as I check my purse to notice something missing, “I’ve left something at my seat, I’ll get it. Hold my spot.” I hurry to the seat to find the lipstick I’d left back, returning to the counter once I locate it to find Nick looking confused. “Do you know this man, madam?” the ticket manager asks. “Yes, I do.” “Okay then”, says the man, after getting the all clear I walk towards the plane with Nick. “What just happened?” “Apparently someone called Kyle Smith told the man I was bothering you”. He tells me, “It got worse once he asked me what your name was to validate that I knew you.” “So it shouldn’t have been a problem.” “It was when I couldn’t tell him your surname.” “What? You don’t know my surname?” I ask, majorly surprised, that’s not very flattering to hear from a person I’ve known for a decade and someone I had such strong feelings for. “Well, you can’t blame me”, Nick argues, “You don’t know my surname either.” I clasp a hand on my mouth, shocked at the fact that I really don’t know. “You never told me”, I say in my defense. “Neither did you”, he retaliates just as defensively. We both look at each other with a mixture of embarrassment and amusement. “At least I know something new about you”, I break the ice, “Even if it is the first thing I should’ve known.” “I can’t believe I discussed suicide with a person whose last name I don’t even know”, he says smiling. “Maybe if I kill someone, you could tell me what your middle name is”. We both burst out laughing at this. “There are some things I just don’t get with us”, I say, recovering from my amusement. “Tell me about it”, he agrees, “What did you go back for?” “Nothing”, I say, pushing the lipstick deep into my pocket. “See? That’s what I’m talking about”, says Nick annoyed, “We always try to hide something. The whole plane ride the first time we met? We held off telling each other about ourselves till the end. In Muscat, I hid the information about me being there to get a job, at the library we tried to hide the fact we’d seen each other at the club and at the beach you didn’t tell me you were getting engaged, which was justified considering I hadn’t told you about my wedding either.” “When you list them down, it does sound like a lot.” “So you get what I’m talking about”, I say, “Then would you please not hide whatever the thing is you went back for?” “Alright, I went back to get my lipstick.” “Oh”, I say underwhelmed as she holds up the lipstick from her pocket, “But hey, wait a minute. It’s still a pretty big deal. I’ve never seen you with makeup before.” “That’s not true. I had it on the night at the club.” “Emily, I was in the middle of being thrown out by the bouncer, I didn’t really have time to notice it then.” “Well I never saw you all prim and proper before either.” “Oh, are you referring to my clean cut appearance?” “Yes, you weren’t nearly as neat at the beach. I guess it’s the lack of facial hair and the scent of perfume instead of stench.” “Hey, I wasn’t that disheveled.” “Nick, as your friend I looked past it but now that you’re better I can tell you, you reeked!” “Well, thank you for not sharing that for two years.” “Feels like such a load off me”, she says sarcastically. “Ah, the age old Emily sarcasm. You didn’t have that the last time.” “And you didn’t have the slick coat on either, may I ask what that’s all about?” She refers to the coat I’m wearing. “That’s a story you should hear sitting down, nothing big, but it’s almost boarding time and we’re not in the plane.” We move along the tunnel leading to the plane as the familiar irresistible need to tell her all about my life throbs against my head. Unless she’s still bogged down by the occurrence at the beach, there won’t be anywhere to run at an altitude of 30000 feet. It would only make matters worse if we hit an unpleasant snag. Thinking back to my claim of the two of us not being entirely honest with each other, I consider an arrangement. “Nick?” Emily asks as I stop in my tracks, just outside of the entrance of the plane. “Sir, it’s time to star boarding the plane”, says the flight attendant. “Just a second”, I excuse myself, turning to Emily. “I have a proposition.” “Okay”, she says unsurely. “Emily, here’s what I propose. We tell each other everything. It took us an entire plane ride to know each other’s first names and a decade to know the last. So how about it?” “You sort of took me by surprise here”, she admits smiling, “I’ve had enough of beating around the bush, too. I agree, full disclosure?” “Absolutely. We tell each other whatever we’re feeling as well”, I say, at the look of her curiosity over my supposed implication, I quickly elaborate, “I mean, we don’t hide if we’re angry, sad, annoyed or whatever, you get the point.” “Very well then, Mr. Charming. How about we board the plane now?” “Whatever you say”, I say, stepping aside and offering her to enter in. “Ladies first.” “Little bit of chivalry, huh?” “It’s not dead, you just have to ask for it.” “I’ll be sure to keep that in mind”, she says as I wink playfully at her. I enter the first class seating but hang around to wait for Emily. “Thank you”, she says courteously. “Don’t worry I’ll take the window seat, I haven’t forgotten your phobia.” “That won’t be a problem because I don’t have it anymore.” “Really? You’re saying you’re not scared of flights anymore.” “Yes, so I’ll be having the window seat then?” “By all means”, I say, wondering how she got over her fear. “When did that happen?” “A couple of years ago.” “Funny, I got over my phobia of mountains two years ago. Unless…?” “The answer is yes and no. Yes, it has something to do with you but no it wasn’t at the beach.” “Then when was it?” “A little time before that, I found a way to keep me nice and distracted. Listening to songs.” “Oh”, I say feeling underwhelmed, I figured only something remarkable could snap her fear of flights considering how her mannerisms used to be. “I didn’t think something as simple as music was the solution to your problem.” “Turns out it was”. “That’s good to know”, I say although I can’t help but feel a little lonesome, seeing her regain her composure by my help was a pleasant feeling in itself. She was the only one successful in getting me over my phobia of heights .It felt as if we had accomplished something together, sort of an understanding only the two of us had with each other. Those moments are gone, I’m not afraid of heights, neither is she of flights. “You seem to be taking that news hard.” “What? No, it’s not that. I’m just wondering how it had something to do with me.” “Well, the first time I realized it helped was when I listened to the songs in your Walkman.” “Ah, that Walkman that mysteriously disappeared. One of the mysteries of my life I’ll never solve. You’re welcome.” “I never said thank you, but okay.” “That was where you were leading so I thought I’d help you out.” “What is with this sudden need to help me?” “What do you mean?” “Well, I’ve noticed you’ve been pretty formal with me since we met”. I say, “What about the old Nick? The one who stood me up in a distant city and screamed at me continuously at the beach?” “So, is that why you hit me in the face with the door, had your niece accuse me of being a pedophile, your brother nearly beating me up and almost getting me evicted from the flight. Revenge?” “It does sound like that, doesn’t it?” I laugh, “Well, sorry about all that.” “Its fine, I was just kidding.” “So, you’ve been formal because you’re scared I’m out for revenge?” “No, I got the sense I wasn’t always very considerate towards you so this was me giving it a shot.” “I never thought you were inconsiderate.” “It came to my notice that my sarcastic attitude might be taken as immature and crass, those exact words.” “I don’t know about other people but I don’t think you’re immature.” “Then you think my screaming at the beach was justified?” “You were in a bad place and you did apologize, repeatedly.” He had said a lot of hurtful things but people tend to make the wrong choices when they’re in situations out of their control, such as my attempt at making a move on Nick, one of the worst mistakes of my life. It’s partly due to his handling of the situation that I disagree of his immaturity, I’ve had plenty of time to reflect on it and he was right to draw back. It wasn’t something he wanted and I should’ve known better. I didn’t even know what I wanted at that particular moment. It was a sort of desperate attempt at a quick fix. “I’ve thought back on it a lot since then can’t wrap my head around how insensitive I’d been. I mean, I insulted you so many times it was ridiculous.” “Well, I’d like to put all that to rest by telling you I accept your apology.” “Thank you, by the way this is also part of the full disclosure agreement and I have to say I’m pretty proud of myself for suggesting it.” “You feel better about the incident now?” “A bit, I’m not the best when it comes to letting go of the past as you’re aware.” “At least you’re on your way”, I say, thinking of my own inability to do the same and how far back I am at it compared to Nick. He’s definitely referring to the loss of his child and the death of his brother, I would’ve been far gone if those losses had befallen me, as it is I haven’t been able to get over things that happened over a decade ago. “Yeah, I suppose I am.” “But don’t you ever think what it would be like to finally let go?” I ask. “What do you mean, exactly?” “I mean, even if one were able to get over a traumatic experience, say a loss of a loved one, how do they get over it? Actually, how do they know they got over it?” “You just know, I guess.” “That’s what I don’t understand, people go through all their lives facing one challenge after the next and they’re bound to fall occasionally but they do manage to get back up. But many of them simply take that burden and proceed, they don’t actually move on. They ignore that weight on their shoulders, thinking they might as well carry it just a little bit further but more often than not something else weighs them down soon enough.” “That’s an interesting thought.” “What I’m trying to say is, eventually all that weight is bound to bring you down. By the end of it, don’t you think it’s your own fault? Because you could’ve slowed down and faced that problem rather than carrying on until it was too late.” “Alright then, I’ve had some personal experience in painful situations so I can relate somewhat. As you know I lost my brother, and my unborn child not too long ago”, he says with a small pause, “And you also know I had a hard time facing either of those problems but once you ignore your troubles and keep going on, they end up catching up, losing my child felt a hundred times worse because it reminded me of how I lost my brother and I carried that guilt for ten years.” “I shouldn’t have brought this up-“ I begin to apologize but he continues. “No, it’s fine I’m just giving you an example. Thankfully, I was able to put that guilt to rest and get over another fear of mine”, he says with a smile, “But I can’t give you a straight answer because it didn’t happen that one second. There were some days when that guilt attempted to rise back but I reminded myself of the lesson I’d learnt that night. It was to say goodbye and over time, I haven’t felt that guilt.” “I’m glad to hear that”, I say honestly, “So you do know when you got over it?” “I can’t say for sure, maybe it was you”, he says, surprising me slightly at the credit. “Good to know because you can’t keep carrying your troubles.” “Actually, I think you can.” “How?” I ask desperately, my old hunger for knowledge pulses, “How do you keep yourself from collapsing?” “You find someone to pick you up”, he says simply, “Someone you can share your troubles with, help make the load easier, make sure you reach that finish line.” “And you’ve found that person?” I ask curiously, anxious to hear his answer. “I did find you”, he says, I stare at him, transfixed, “Or should I say, you found me on that beach, helped me pick up my guilt and throw it away, that’s when I started believing that, yes, the only way to go through life is when you have someone to help you. Maybe not throughout, but in certain instances, companionship is needed and I’m glad you were there for me.” “Whoever called you immature has to be the biggest idiot ever”, I say, completely touched by his words, all I can do is look at him charmed, truly. Damn it, Nick, why do you say things like that? It makes not feeling anything seem impossible. I smile in appreciation while he does in understanding. “Hey, we’re moving.” “You take your metaphors literally, don’t you?” “No, I mean, we’re physically moving”, he says pointing outside the window. “Oh, that’s right”, I say feeling silly. “Did you think I meant buckle up as in with your metaphorical seatbelts?” “No”, I lie. “Good, because that would have been lame”, he laughs, I pretend to as well, feeling even sillier, looks like the moment’s passed. “Better put on your earphones, flight’s about to take off”, I remind her, wanting to see her claim of overcoming her fear in practice. “Where’s your phone anyway?” “Under this pillow”, she refers to the pillow on her lap. Just then her headphones come to my attention, huge and battered, resembling the ones I had with my old Walkman. Around those times, this style was in, but I should remind her it’s not 2001 anymore. “I know they’re old.” “They’re ancient. Why not just buy new ones?” “Because I like these, I’ve been using them for a long time.” “Exactly how long? I must have skipped that chapter in my history book.” “Make your little jokes but they’re a big help.” “As was the first fire created by man, you sure he didn’t have those on when he made it?” “Very funny, now would you please give me a moment to relax?” She gives me a disgruntled look before closing her eyes and letting the music absorb her. I decide not to annoy further. The plane speeds up, I keep one eye on Emily. She seems pretty comfortable. Headphones on, hands clutching the pillow, eyes closed. The sun shines upon her, it is at this moment that I really notice her, this has happened before but it feels different now. I become aware of how seamless she is. Seamless? I don’t think I’ve ever used that word before. I try to turn my attention elsewhere but find it difficult. Slowly glancing back, I see her bathed in sunlight, looking incredibly radiant. Her features calm, hair carelessly flowing and lips moving softly along with the song she’s listening to. The subtleness of it all has me strangely enamored. I must be sleep deprived, why else would I suddenly admire her? Maybe it’s because until I’d seen her so up close the last time, I’d never given her much thought. Over the last two years that one moment has repeatedly leapt in front of me when I least expect it. Now, with her features accented, she looks particularly distinct, beautiful even. Do something else to divert your attention, Nick. And stop talking to yourself. I turn my phone on, just what I need to distract myself from Emily. There hadn’t been many options for me the first time we met, thanks to the advance in technology I don’t have to sit by myself doing nothing. “Excuse me, sir. Is there anything I can get you?” The flight attendant asks me. “Yeah, an extra pillow would be nice.” “Alright, and anything for her?” “You need anything?” I ask Emily, pulling one of the earbobs out. “Water, please”, she replies then puts the earpiece back on. “You’ll need to write your name on this before”, the attendant hands me a slip, “Sorry, it’s a new policy to make sure every item is verified.” “No problem”, I say writing my name on the paper. “Your full name, sir. And you can fill in for her as well.” “Err”, I say awkwardly having no idea what Emily’s last name is. “I actually don’t know her surname.” “Really? It seemed like you’d known each other for a long time by the looks of it.” “Right”, I reply, wondering how long the attendant had been listening in to our conversation. “How about you bring us the stuff and we’ll give this back then.” I nudge Emily to get her attention. “Yeah?” “You have to write your name on this.” “You could’ve written it for me.” “They need our full names.” “Oh”, she says realizing the problem. “You think we should tell each other by now?” “Yeah, I think that’s a good idea.” “Here you go then”, she says passing the paper to me, her name written. “Smith?” I comment, “Emily Smith.” “Didn’t think that would be my name?” “No, I just wanted to say it out loud. You can pretend you’re related to Will Smith.” I joke as I write my name down. “I’ll keep that in mind when the moment comes up… Nick Parsons.” “Yeah, you remember that”, I say tapping my forehead absently with the pen. “Got something on your mind?” “No, nothing much”, I pretend at first but then decide to tell her, “Just feeling stupid, that’s all.” “I know what you mean, and it should be worse for me, don’t you think? Because of my need to know the answer to everything”, she echoes my earlier jokes at her. “So you’ve accepted it?” “Maybe I’m just saying it to make you feel better.” “You still didn’t know my name, though.” “You’ve got me there.” “Well, at least you can scratch that off our get to know list”, I say dryly. “Is it really bothering you that much?” She asks catching my displeasure. “I don’t know, I guess I’m just slightly put off by the fact that we never bothered to ask each other something as elementary as our names.” “We know them now.” “Yes, but after ten years.” “Better late than never, right?” “This was bordering on never, if you ask me. The first thing I ask a person is their name and with you it was the complete opposite. I guess it’s embarrassing after sharing so much with you, maybe the reason it was so easy for us to remain anonymous on the internet was that we never bothered. Sort of wish we could change that.” “Well then, why don’t we?” She suggests brightly. “Let’s change how we met.” “And how do you propose we do that?” “We met on a plane, we can meet here again. We’ve been incidentally given seats next to each other, we strike up a conversation and begin a friendship.” “Sounds sort of corny to me.” “So you think these sorts of things are corny”, she says faking an interested tone. “Okay, now you just look like you have amnesia.” “I’m simply suggesting a do over. You want to stop feeling stupid, then might as well play along.” “What have I got to lose, anyway?” I say considering her theory. “Nothing. You’re supposed to learn things about me. That’s the whole point.” “Alright then”, I say excitedly, getting up and moving a few steps away, then casually walking back to my seat. “Excuse me, is this seat taken?” I ask pretending not to know her. “Please have it, by all means”, she replies, playing along. “Pleasure to make your acquaintance.” “The pleasure’s mutual.” She says sophisticatedly, “Drop the British accent and the nicety”, she adds. “Sorry”, I say before getting back into character, “So was your trip for business or pleasure?” “Pleasure. And you?” “Strictly business. Hi, I’m Nick Parsons.” I say extending my hand in greeting. “Hi, I’m Emily Smith.” She replies accepting my hand. “Firm handshake, I take it you’re experienced in the corporate world?” “Yes, an Architect for a large firm. Which line of work are you in?” “Auditing. Just got done with the audit of a glass firm.” “Is that so?” She asks impressively, “And how long have you been in this field?” “Couple of years by now, I altered my career path after a friend advised me to get my life back in order.” “This friend of yours is very proud of you”, Emily says with a small laugh, “Congratulations on the new career, Nick.” “So, we’re breaking character?” “Yes, because Emily Smith can’t hide her delight at this news”, she says, giving my hand a little squeeze. “So you’re an auditor, how did that happen?” “Well, once I got back from the beach I decided to follow through with getting my life back together. After finally paying off the bills from my wedding, I waltzed right into the office and quit.” “Weren’t you fired when I met you?” “No, because they were in breach so I got the job back but soon as I paid all my debts, I was off. It took some doing but I managed to break into the auditing field.” “And how did you do that?” “Started off with freelance stock counts. You would not believe the crap I had to count. Literally hundreds of nuts and bolts at the factory I started out and I was the oldest of all the trainees.” I tell her, “But, I have no regrets because thanks to my hard work, I moved up the ranks quickly and so, here I am.” “What about Leah?” “Don’t know and don’t care”, I say happily. “Wow, so it’s all in the past?” “That’s quite an achievement. Especially considering how bleak it all seemed. This would be great for a book.” “You think people would be interested in something like this?” “There’s a niche for every story, yours could be a coming of age novel.” “I never really gave it much thought in that sense.” “Yeah, I’m sort of a weirdo. I can’t help but carve out a story.” “Is that right?” I ask interestedly, “You do this all the time?” “Kind of, I did it absently before, but lately it’s gotten more frequent.” “You should consider writing, then.” “Please, to be a writer you’ve got to be disciplined. Give up on all work and focus completely on that.” “But if you’re so overwhelmed by these ideas then consider putting it on paper.” “And do what with them?” She asks, a little intensely than I think necessary. “You could give them to me.” “Thanks for being nice”, she says appreciatively, “But I don’t want to burden you. I know you don’t like to read.” “Well, that’s not completely true anymore.” “Really? You read?” she asks amusedly. “It’s been a long time, now that I think about it. Once I was done with the Harry Potter novels. I read other mainstream novels and eventually became a regular reader.” “Wow, you think you know someone”, she says sarcastically. “I know, right?” I say playing along. “And you called me a nerd all these years.” She says triumphantly. “So, we’re going to consolidate that reading is cool.” “I remember why I hid it in the first place. You still look like a nerd.” “You’re a traitor to our cause”, she jokes, hitting me on the arm softly. “You know, I always enjoy it when you hit me like that. It always makes me feel like we’re close… friends”, I add the last word awkwardly, having no idea why I’m even telling her this. I can’t really describe the feeling either. “That’s nice, I guess”, she says unsurely. “I don’t even know why I said it, Sorry.” “No”, she says quickly, placing her hand on my arm, quieting me down in an instant, “I don’t want you thinking you can’t say stuff like that.” “Alright”, I say gently, looking at her hand on mine. This has been the strangest day, wanting to avoid Emily at the start of it yet now feeling more attached to her than ever before. The sun shines again. I blink under its brightness and trace the cause to a ring on her hand. “What?” She asks still smiling, unaware the moment’s gone. “You’re engaged, aren’t you?” I ask. She quickly moves her hand away. “Sorry, I’m so used to it by now that I forget to mention it, it’s been a while.” She blushes. “How long, exactly?” “Two years.” “Oh”, I say, thinking back to the morning at the beach, clearly she didn’t listen. “It’s the same guy I told you about. You know, Guy.” “Yes, the man with the unique name”, I say, attempting to sound funny. “He joked that he’d already packed his things in case I turned him down”, she says with a short laugh, “I told him it was good thinking.” Gee, I wonder why? I think sarcastically. After all, she was going to leave him until our little incident. “Well, congratulations”, I wish her, although not meaning it at all. What annoys me is the fact that I’m annoyed to begin with. Why should I be? It’s not like I wanted to be engaged to her. I might be irritated because as her friend I shouldn’t let her marry someone she doesn’t love. Maybe after I turned her down she realized how right Guy was for her. I did turn her down, I remember distinctly thinking that I never thought of her that way, so what is this sinking feeling in my chest? Maybe it’s because we met after a long time. Whatever the reason is, I do know that I have no right to second guess myself. Don’t be shallow, Nick. You’re not Leah. “Thanks”, she says, ushering me back to reality and ending the voices in my head. “I want to say sorry, Nick.” “For what?” “You know”, she says, her stare a bit too understanding, causing me to drop the act. “It’s alright.” “No, it isn’t. You shared so much with me that night and I didn’t repay that trust. Please let me apologize.” “Okay, then. If you want to so badly.” “Thank you, I didn’t have my head straight with the uncertainty surrounding the proposal. And when you told me about your losses, I felt I could relate to you”, she says, I wonder if she’s referring to her aunt’s death, although the nagging feeling I always get that something else is her real cause for worry returns, “So to take in all of that was probably too overwhelming for me.” “Look, if you were patient enough to listen to me, then the least I could do was return the favor.” “What I mean is that I may have said some things I shouldn’t have.” “Like what?” I ask, everything she’d said that night had an enormous amount of intensity. “Like the things I said about Guy. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect and I think I was wrong. It wasn’t my best judgment.” “Okay”, I say simply, although I have my doubts whether she’s sincere at the moment. “And the thing between me and you”, she says, my interest piques, “I don’t know what happened, I can’t explain it. All I can say is I’m sorry.” “There’s no need for that”, I say quickly, somehow reluctant to hear her apologize for it, it doesn’t seem as if she did anything wrong, I wonder why it feels like that all of a sudden. “You were vulnerable, I took advantage of it.” “Nothing happened.” “Because of your good sense.” “It can’t be wrong if it feels right”, I say, where am I going with this? “You’re right”, she says, taking me by surprise, does she still feel like that? “Am I?” I ask, looking directly at her, trying to pierce my stare strongly enough to know what she’s thinking. “Yes, which is why it feels right to say, it was a huge mistake”, she says, sending a peculiar sensation in my chest, as if something heavy just dropped. “It was a mistake, I was letting my emotions run wild. Not realizing what I did. You and I are just friends and I feel absolutely nothing else toward you.” “I’m glad we… clarified all that”, I say slowly, it doesn’t seem like what she said was what she was thinking. But it’s probably my mind jumping to its own conclusions. “I am too, now that we’ve re-met each other, we can set the nature of our relationship, strictly friendship, right?” She asks, perhaps reading my preoccupied expression. “Of course”, I force myself to smile. “So let’s dust off that part of our past as well like it never happened.” “If you want to”, I say, did it really mean nothing? “It’s for the best”, I say, I don’t want the incident at the beach nagging Nick and I, even if it means not being honest about it. “Very well then”, he says, picking up two water packs, “Here’s to letting go of the past and looking forward to the future.” “I’ll drink to that”, I smile and clink the pack with his. “So tell me, what does the future hold?” “The immediate future for me, once this plane lands, is to go by the office and hand in the reports from my audit.” “You don’t have any files on you.” “It’s here in this USB”, he says holding it up. “That’s right”, I say tapping my head, “I don’t know what I was thinking.” “I’m thinking of all the stuff that’s changed since the first time we met.” “Tell me about it”, I concur, “Although it has been ten years.” “That doesn’t stop me from feeling old. I saw a few college students sitting at the airport and thought back to our time. Remember all the things we talked about then?” “I do, what we did in school and what we wanted to, later in life.” “I guess this is the later part.” “I prefer to think of it as the next.” “So do you feel younger thinking like that?” “We’re not that old, you know?” “We’re almost thirty years old. And if I recall correctly, ten years ago you felt you weren’t young anymore.” “Yeah, that’s when I always felt like time went too fast for me to catch up.” “And you don’t feel that way anymore?” “For the most part. I guess I don’t have as many goals set for me as I used to.” “You certainly had a big list back then.” “At least I had a list, you were too busy thinking of a way to pick up girls.” “Oh yeah, I forgot about that”, he says fondly, “I kind of miss that Nick.” “Well, we can’t expect to always remain the same, no matter how much we want.” “Correct, so how about we check how much we’ve changed? Compare what’s different in our lives from back then.” “Doesn’t sound like a bad idea.” “I’ll start, you said you wanted to be an architect. Well, that was a no brainer.” “You did say I should be more relaxed.” “And what’s the verdict on that one?” “Too bad I can’t say I am. Okay, you said you hadn’t thought of what you wanted to do in life although you also considered becoming a policeman.” “Damn it, I should’ve kept that in mind when I chose my career, so I could’ve said I was right”, he says sarcastically. “That’s not so bad, what’s bad is that you claimed you’d be a real player. That didn’t really work out either, did it?” “You seem to be disappointed. I thought you didn’t like player types.” “I don’t, but it’s sad that I won’t be able rub it in Past Nick’s face.” “Is that so? Well I feel bad I won’t be able to rub it in Past Emily’s face that she does believe in relationships.” “What are you talking about?” I ask, feigning unawareness. “Oh please”, he says unconvinced, “I can’t forget how you were so against relationships, how long has it been since you’ve been in one?” “Four years”, I murmur defeated. “Past Nick wins that one.” He says raising his arms up in victory, “Although he was wrong about his own love life that’s for sure.” “Yes, you said you wanted a challenge in your relationship, you’d get bored of a peaceful married life.” “Well, can’t say I didn’t get that”, he says shuddering slightly. “You should’ve shut me up right there.” “If only I knew how”, I joke, he grimaces at me which I return playfully. “I remember you saying something yourself, Miss Smith. You said I’d get married to a girl who wanted to be swept off her feet.” “And I still stand by it. It’s just that the first one wasn’t that girl.” “There’s still hope?” “Absolutely.” “So Guy swept you off yours?” “I don’t think I’m the swept off my feet kind of girl.” “I may seem slow at times but I do catch some things on occasion and I can say for sure, Emily, that you can’t wait to be off the ground.” “Is that so?” I ask interested. “And how come you’re so sure about it?” “Because I’ve seen how you are when you’re truly happy, like the time when we were in that library. The way you spread your arms out, as if ready to take flight, leaving everything behind, and I’ve seen the way you talk about your niece. It’s not conventional Emily I see at that moment. And what made me all the more sure is when I saw you pick her up, she has to be about nine yet you carry her in your arms, as if you want her to be swept off as well.” “I think you’ve got it all wr…” My sentence trails, meanwhile he doesn’t seem to have finished. “And I’m not trying to say you’re unhappy but I can say for sure, you’re looking for something that keeps you off the ground, not just for a few moments. I haven’t forgotten when you described your sister leaving everything for the man she loved, you didn’t see the look you had, that need to understand that feeling, and the fact that you want all that is what makes me sure you want to be swept off your feet.” “And you think I will be swept off?” I ask as if in a trance. “Yes, everyone needs that one person to do that”, hearing him say all this has made me forget whether my feet are still on the ground. “You think you know me so well?” I ask, wanting reasoning for his analysis. “I’m just telling you what I saw in you.” “So, by your theory, I shouldn’t be with Guy?” “I was only suggesting you may have already been swept off without realizing it.” “Maybe I have”, I say although the times I’d felt anything like what Nick described, they haven’t worked out so well for me. “But don’t you think keeping your head up in the clouds is like running away from reality.” “Kind of, but if you’ve got it figured out, there might not be anything to run away from.” “How come you’ve got so much input in relationships?” “I guess having had a married life as far away from the one I’d wanted sort of made it clearer what a real relationship should be like.” “That actually makes sense”, I concur, “I guess you know what you want when you have it and when you don’t as well.” “Then I’m the one without it and you’re the one with it, so we both know what a real relationship should be.” “Right”, I say evasively, not wanting to consider the potency of my relationship. “Have you written your names?” the flight attendant arrives. “Yes, Nick Parsons… and Emily Smith”, Nick says brightly. I shake my head in amusement. “Thank you, most of the passengers never fill them out.” “Would I lie to you?” Nick asks her flirtatiously. “No, you don’t look like the type.” “Oh, are you familiar with my type, then?” “Unfortunately, no.” “Too bad, maybe I should use this flight more often so you have a passenger who’s always honest.” “I know I’d like that”. She laughs, throwing her hair back pointedly. “Uh, could I get some juice?” I interrupt their session, feeling annoyed. “I was wrong, you did turn into a player”, I say to Nick, returning the attendant’s icy stare with equal venom as she leaves. “Why would you say that?” “Did you not realize what you were doing?” “Being nice?” “Yeah, some might say too nice. Did you not see the look she was giving you?” “A look of appreciation?” “Please, she was totally into you”. I say irritably, “Throwing her back like that.” “But what does it matter if she was?” “It’s not ethical.” “Right, and that’s what makes you so mad at her?” “I’m not mad at her”, I say quickly, thinking fast on my defense, “I just… think it’s not professional. If you’re at work then… you get the point.” “Sure. “I’m not jealous.” “I never said you were”, he says suspiciously, “Are you?” “No, I’m not”, she says even quicker than before, “That’s what you were about to imply, weren’t you?” “Alright, I was just kidding, anyway.” I say, the attendant returns with Emily’s juice. “And can I get you anything?” The attendant asks me brightly, bending down a little closer than necessary. “He won’t be having anything”, Emily says before I can speak, sending her away. “Did you see it this time?” “Yeah, she was close, maybe she couldn’t hear right.” “As if, she had her shirt unbuttoned from the top”, Emily says scandalized. “She was clearly trying to get your attention.” “Well, I don’t know what to tell you”, I say amused, “I just wanted some juice.” “Here, you can have mine.” “Didn’t you want juice for yourself?” “No”, she says flatly, I think it’s better not to pursue this topic any further. “Judging by my time, it won’t be long before we get there. What are your plans?” “I don’t have anything to do, I’ll stay at my apartment.” She tells me. “Lucky you, I don’t want to go to the office.” “Come on, just be glad you have a job.” “I guess the grass is always greener on the other side. It’s just that auditing really bothers me sometimes.” “I hear it pays real well for the time, though.” “I guess, but what do I have to spend the money on? Apart from rent, basic bills, I really have no use for the money.” “How about a vacation? You could use the money and get time to relax.” “Good idea. When do you want to do it?” “What?” She asks looking taken aback. “The vacation, when do you want to go?” I clarify, “I’m not going without you, what am I supposed to do by myself?” “You really want to go with me?” She asks with a flattered expression, “Don’t want to take your friend there with you?” She motions towards the attendant. “Oh yeah, I forgot about her, fine, forget what I said.” I joke. “That’ll be a waste of money”. She says hitting me on the arm. “Okay, then how would you spend my money if you were in the same situation?” “I’d buy lots of gifts for my niece. By the way, what possessed you to offer candy to a kid you didn’t even know?” “Children like chocolates.” “That’s okay if the kid’s yours.” “Duly noted, besides, I won’t be doing that again, you can be sure of that.” “Had enough close encounters?” “Something like that. I have no interest in getting pummeled by someone like your brother.” “Stop it”, she laughs, “I admit, he is a little intimidating.” “Little? Your niece is little.” “Well, he has a tendency to be nerve-racking when a guy’s around me.” “Imagine if he has a daughter, no one’s going to be coming close to her, I’ll tell you that.” “No one comes close to my niece because of him. You were smart to run away when you did.” “I knew I had to bolt as soon as your niece told him.” “Li is a child, after all, she didn’t realize what she was saying.” “Li?” I ask flinching slightly. “Oh, we don’t normally call her Alicia, we shorten it to Li.” “Right, it sounded as if you said Leah, that’s all.” “I could tell from your face.” “I’m okay, it’s just that suddenly hearing her name sometimes makes me wince.” “To be honest with you, it always made me feel kind of like that whenever you told me about her.” “How come you never told me?” “There are certain things one holds back for their friend. Honesty isn’t always the right way to go.” “So, you would rather have someone lie, instead of them telling you how they really feel?” “If it would hurt them, then yes, although don’t feel as if you have to lie about what your opinion is of Guy.” “Well…” I fight off the unfamiliar sentiments I’ve had for her today that urge me to badmouth the man, but ultimately I stick with the truth, “I think he’s a good guy and from what I’ve heard, he’s stuck by you for a long time.” “Are you being honest?” “I thought it didn’t matter as long as I didn’t want to hurt you. “It would hurt if you weren’t being honest”, I tell him, “That was part of the full disclosure agreement, remember?” What I’ve always cherished in my friendship with Nick is our sincerity with each other, it might take some time to get it all out but we do get there. It’s one of the things I can’t say I have with Guy, no matter how much I attempt to try. A part of me hoped he’d have something distinctive to share. I’m not entirely sure what, still, his answer’s not the most satisfying. “I don’t know much about the guy. If I did, then I could give you a different answer. As it is, I feel like I’m judging your relationship.” “Sorry, I guess I didn’t realize it”, I apologize. My curiosity over his opinion might have made me insensitive towards my relationship with Guy. “That’s okay, would you look at that?” he points out the window, “We’re almost there.” He takes a few pictures with his phone. “I forgot how enthusiastic you got before landing.” “Yeah”, he replies still snapping, “Remember back when we had to wait for these pictures to get developed before we could see them?” “I do, and remember when the only entertainment we had on the plane was watching TV?” “Yeah, now for the most part, I start playing games on my phone now.” “So much for our days on MSN, although I do miss chatting”, I say honestly. “I miss chatting on MSN, too”, he says, making me wonder if he’s thinking back to when we’d known each other as arch82 and joe79, as well. “I sort of miss those times, these new innovations made things easier but wish we still had some of the old things to keep us grounded, you know?” “Okay, question, if you had an option to have a world where these innovations never happened, like smartphones, internet and all that, do you think you’d be better off?” “Well, humans were without these things for centuries and they didn’t feel primitive but on the other hand, life’s so much easier now… Forget what I said, I’d rather have my phone on which I can play angry birds.” “That wistfulness didn’t last long.” “Come on, if we didn’t have technology, then we’d be riding on a stagecoach instead of a plane.” “See? I made you appreciate the things that you’ve been given.” I say wittily. “Yes, oh wise, Emily”, he humors me, “Thank you for opening my eyes.” “Always a pleasure.” “Seeing as we’ve almost landed and have nothing else to do, how about taking a picture?” “I’m not really a picture taking person, if you’ll remember. Oh, don’t tell me you want to take a selfie.” “That’s exactly what I want”, he replies turning the camera towards the both of us, “Smile.” “I should’ve known you’d be one of those selfie crazed people”, I say amusedly after he takes the picture, I didn’t even pose, instead smiling at Nick. “Hey, it’s fun, look how great the picture turned out.” “My make-up seems to have faded, I’ll just go and freshen up.” “No, don’t”, Nick says abruptly, taking me by surprise. “You, uh, look nice.” “Okay”, I say slowly, “Is that why you wanted to take the picture?” “Err, no, I just like the way you look… at the moment, and, uh, make-up would just mask that”, he says awkwardly, “But what do I know, if you want to, then it’s your wish.” “No, if you really mean it… then, I don’t need to”, I reply flattered. What was I thinking? It just spilled out of my mouth, the picture turned out so well that I didn’t think she could look better. That was a very awkward cover up. Yet, I couldn’t help but be honest and there is a small part of me feeling glad I was. The gladness is only being encouraged as I look at Emily, a small smile on her face, brushing aside her hair, but I can’t be sure whether it’s genuine. “This is what I meant when I spoke about technology”, I try to continue covering up, “If it wasn’t for the selfie, then I wouldn’t have opened my big mouth.” “Well, your big mouth does say a few things just right”, she says, I have no idea what she means by that, “Uh, so what would you have done ten years ago, then? When there weren’t any smartphones.” “I guess I would’ve been using my Walkman. Which reminds me, don’t you have some music to listen to?” “You’re right, thanks”, she says putting on the earphones. “Wait, what would you have done?” “For what it’s worth, I would’ve chosen talking to you over the Walkman, I like that better, talk to you after we land.” “I’ll be waiting, you know, because I won’t be using my phone, cutting back on technology.” I tell her, feeling flattered. She gives a small laugh and closes her eyes. I look away pointedly having no intention of being trapped in another reverie. I notice the flight attendant smiling at me attractively, and smile back politely. Emily thinks she might be interested in me, while that may be true, it doesn’t matter. Once, the idea of being considered appealing to a woman would’ve been exciting. She’s clearly attractive, definitely a head turner, yet, there’s no alluring aspect. She has a very obvious sort of quality, something that I’d once placed in high regard in a woman, Leah certainly had it. But looks are terribly one sided, they give no indication as to what a person is like. It honestly doesn’t seem worth it, not when you can be with someone who’s pretty and has a good personality, who isn’t as superficial as her looks, especially someone whom I could compliment and mean it. I blink to see someone’s face in front of me, Emily’s. No, that’s not what I meant, it’s just a coincidence. There’s nothing to read into this. I peek out from the window. Such a huge and magnificent city, full of possibilities but full of loneliness as well, and all I have to look forward to is going to the office. Running into Emily breathed new life into what was supposed to be a boring day. For the first time since I’ve known her there’s the opportunity of finally becoming true friends. We’re not college kids or in between jobs, both of us live here. The possibility of getting to know her on a regular basis is particularly cheery, no more meeting by chance every couple of years, it’s tiring. I wonder if she’s having the same thoughts, it should have at least crossed her mind. The plane takes a bump. In my surprise, I knock off one of Emily’s earplugs. I feel a strong grip on my hand. Hers. Perhaps taken by surprise too, eyes shut tight. I maintain her hold and touch her hand consolingly. She loosens her grip in the next few moments, before relaxing it just as the plane halts. “That was an awkward landing”, she says quietly, her hand still in mine. “I didn’t see it coming either.” “And with your eyes open, at least mine were closed.” “But I wasn’t the one scared.” “I wasn’t scared either.” “Then why’d you jump for my hand?” “I didn’t-” she begins before she sees me holding her hand, and lets go quickly, “Sorry… I didn’t know I did that.” “It’s alright, it’s not like it’s the first time.” “Yes, but still”, she says embarrassedly, I notice her fiddling with her engagement ring. “Don’t worry, I’m sure Guy holds your hand usually”, I say excusably, “You probably imagined him without realizing.” “No, he never knew how to calm me-“ She begins before stopping again, perhaps telling me too much. “So, you made it up then, didn’t you?” I ask quickly to change the topic, “You’re still scared of planes.” “No, I didn’t make it up. I relapse slightly when I’m taken by surprise, that’s all.” “Out of curiosity, which songs do you listen to?” “Listen for yourself”, she hands me the plugs. A wave of nostalgia hits me as I listen to her tracks, they sound awfully familiar. “You won’t believe it but the songs you have are exactly the same ones I had in my Walkman.” I tell her excitedly, “Freaky, huh?” “Not really”, she says beaming timidly and removes the pillow from her lap, holding up the device I haven’t seen in a decade, “Look familiar?” “Is this my Walkman?” I ask in disbelief. “You’ve had it all this time?” “I did.” She confirms embarrassedly. “So… you stole it?” “No, no, the first time we met, remember you and I didn’t get along and then I took your Walkman away to get back at you? Well, I guess neither of us realized it but when I got to my aunt’s house I found it in my purse. I kept it in case I ran into you again but I never had it on me whenever we met, I took this with me when I travelled home a few years ago, and realized it was helpful.” “I can’t believe it’s been with you all these years.” “Sorry”, she apologizes, looking guilty. “Don’t worry about it”, I laugh, “I never gave it much thought, although how come you didn’t give it back when we departed?” “I thought I needed it to remain calm. But you know what? I think I’ve been kind of selfish, take it back.” “You don’t need it to keep your phobia in check?” “Nah, like you said, we’re not teenagers anymore. Besides, you also said you wanted something to keep you grounded. Well, here it is. No internet, no smartphones, just a good old song player.” “Thanks.” “What’re you thanking me for?” She asks amusedly, “It’s yours to begin with and it’s a Walkman, something nobody uses anymore.” “You should be thanking me for not turning you in for stealing.” I say feeling amused myself. We both laugh at the ridiculousness of it all, attracting a few unpleasant stares from the moving crowd. “Well, that’s a load off of me”, Emily says once the laughter subsides somewhat. “You’re seriously giving it back?” I ask still chuckling. “I don’t need it, you have some use for it.” “I don’t think I kept it entirely for the songs.” “Then what did you keep it for?” “I guess… because it reminded me of you”, she says truthfully. “Then why not hold onto it?” I ask feeling admired. “Because now that we’ve met, I don’t need that anymore, do I?” She adds at the end. “I suppose not”, I smile gratefully, for her sentiment and the fact of the confirmation that she too had been thinking the same thing that I had. “Don’t you want to get up?” I ask him when the moment passes. “No, I wait for everyone else to get off, because I find that going first only means pushing people away to wait in another line.” “Strange, I do that too, what’s the point of hurrying we have lots of free time?” “Holy crap!” Nick exclaims all of a sudden. “Do you remember something similar ten years ago?” “I’m not sure”, I say, trying to search my brain for the memory he’s referring to, when it hits me, “Oh, my God, you’re right! We filed out real quick and then noticed a few older ones sitting around waiting for the line to thin. You pointed them out while I said the exact same thing!” “Exactly”, he says, hands on his head, “Man, we really have grown up, haven’t we?” “I guess so”, I laugh, “I can’t believe we used to be in such a hurry before, I mean, isn’t this easier? We’re bound to reach the gate the same time as the ones who got up quickly.” “I know, fascinating how a person’s mind changes, huh?” “Tell me about it, and it’s not just in something like getting out of a plane, I used to be in such a hurry for everything once before”, I reflect.“ Like finishing my studies or getting a job.” “Same for me. I wanted to get married as soon as possible, get an easy route to a job.” “It all seems so simple now, doesn’t it?” “Yeah, although, you ever wonder how our decisions would’ve been affected if we’d just stopped and thought about them?” “Yeah”, I say absently, now that I think of it in a different perspective, I’m not sure if I stopped. I’ve covered my head with so many questions that the answer still remains elusive, although I never try to uncover it. “I think it’s about time”, says Nick getting up, maybe it is, I do need to stop and think. “Or do you want to stay?” Nick and I get done with all the formalities at the airport and my mind still wavers over other matters. I may not be in a hurry anymore but have I reached the goals I’d wanted to achieve? On paper it does measure up. I finished college, got a high standing job, was able to support my mother and become independent. Along the way, I found someone who seems to be the best fit for me, yet, that was never part of my list. And everyone tells me it’s something to be happy about. The truth is, it doesn’t feel like something I want to embrace, he doesn’t feel like someone I want to embrace… Then why am I still going on and what am I going on for? If only I could remember the answer for that, I’d known it once but somehow I’ve lost contact with that part of me, it only surfaces occasionally, mainly when I’m with the person next to me. But I can’t rely on him, he has his own life to deal with, besides, I tried relying on someone once before and I know how that turned out. “Want to split a cab?” Nick asks me. “Okay”, I agree and we get in. “Where do you live, by the way?” “Fifth Avenue.” “Wow, uptown, huh?” he asks impressed, “sounds like a fun place to stay what with Central Park being so close and all.” “Yeah, I go there a lot.” “I’m sure you do, I can easily picture you sitting on a bench, reading one of your books.” “I do, do that”, I smile. “Oh yeah? Remember when we went to that park in Muscat?” “I do”, that one holds fond memories of us, when we discussed our goals in life, how we raced up that waterfall and the natural beauty of the day. “That was a very stunning place.” “It was, you know, I’ve never been to a Park with anyone other than you?” “Really?” “Really, sometimes I go by myself but never with someone.” “It’s too bad you have to go to the office or we could’ve stopped by the Park.” “How about we do that now? I can push it back, it’s not a problem”, he says, checking his watch. “Yup, there’s enough time, you want to?” “I haven’t gotten anything else planned”, I say feeling my spirits rise over the idea of visiting the Park with him. “We could call it a re-enactment of sorts of our first time together.” “So you want to race again?” “My dear, I would beat you all over again”, he jokes. “You never told me where to drop you”, the cab driver says from the front grumpily. “Yes, we would like to go to Central Park”, Nick tells him. “Kind of makes me miss Habib.” “The love story that never was.” “Joke all you want, he was fun to talk to.” “I’m not saying he wasn’t, I liked him too but it’s just sad that it didn’t work out.” “Yes, I cry my eyes out every night over him.” “Good, the first stage is acceptance.” “I’m sure psychiatrist Nick is going to walk me through all the stages of grief. But how about we just focus on walking in the park for now? So, when did you move here?” “Over a year ago, thought to have a fresh start, how about you?” “Not too long, I thought it would be nice to have a bit of change. I transferred here, Guy arranged it”, I catch a bit of displeasure in her tone. “You didn’t want to move here?” “Well, it’s just that I thought it would’ve been a nice opportunity for me to scope for different things once I got here”, she explains, “But Guy felt it would be safer for me to continue with the same job, remember he used to own the company? He bought it back, so it was a snap, as he called it.” “I’m guessing you weren’t completely on board with his decision.” “Well, no.” “I get it, you didn’t seem to want to continue with the job. You stayed because…” I pause, unsure whether my words would sound like me blaming Guy for making her stay, “…other things got in the way, or you would’ve gone for the job in Argentina, right?” “I guess.” “Wasn’t that something you wanted?” “The idea of moving here and looking for something else to do had a different feeling, I’m not sure if it had to do with Argentina.” “Something? Hmmm, so, it wasn’t architecture you wanted.” “I didn’t say that”, she says, although with the air of getting caught. “I think it would be great, if you don’t feel as if you’re being fulfilled with what you’re doing now, then why not branch out?” “I didn’t say that”, she repeats, “Architecture’s been a great fit for me, I had it in my plan, complete my studies and getting a job in that field. And it’s worked out. I’m in a secure place.” “If you feel happy.” I say as she looks out of the window thoughtfully, “If I had my way, I’d do nothing and still feel content.” “I can never imagine that kind of life. I need to do something. It’s the way I am.” “Something again? So it’s not specific to architecture?” “Why do you keep asking me that?” “This is the first time that you haven’t spoken of architecture as if it’s a reflex. I was kind of envious of that surety you had, to tell you the truth.” “Maybe I’ve just become used to it.” “Could be, well here we are”, I say as we approach the park, Emily shifts ahead, after which the cab moves away. “Where are we going?” “Didn’t you want to walk?” “Yeah, but what about your place?” “So? I could still get there”, she says casually as we stop on the far side of the park. “It’s pretty far from your house, you know?” “I don’t have anything planned. Unless you don’t want to spend time with me, I can tell him to go back.” “That won’t be necessary” I chuckle, “Miss Smith, once we’re out of this cab, you’ll be stuck with me, sure about this?” “I’ll take my chances.” “Then let’s go for it”, I say as we get out of the cab, and the warmth of the day makes itself present. “Are you sure you won’t be feeling hot with that coat on?” She asks as if aware of what I was thinking. “I don’t have much of a choice.” “What about your office?” “Umm”, I check my watch, not a lot of time left, I consider telling her about the opportunity of the bonus I’d be up to receive if I reported early, the great escape I conjured. “Still got some time”, I decide against it, she’d only make me go. “Alright, by the way, how did you get a job here?” “My brother knew the firm. He represented them for a case and suggested me to his contacts.” “Wow, so your brother’s a lawyer?” “I never tire of that reaction when I tell people Mikey’s a lawyer.” “I like how you still call him by his nickname.” “Hey, he might become the district attorney, but he’s still going to have to live with that name.” “Well, it was nice to know he’s doing well”, she says walking along, “Don’t know when I’ll hear of him again.” “What do you mean by that?” “That I don’t know much about your family”, says Emily, “And yes I know you don’t much about mine, either”, she adds as I was about to point that out. “I didn’t realize it was so important.” “Knowing about your friend’s family is important too, you know?” “Alright, well, to start off, Dad was a financial analyst before he retired and Mom was a stay at home mother who craves for grandchildren now, and I had two brothers, sadly the older one passed away and the younger one’s a lawyer. There. My family in a nutshell.” “Anything further?” “No, not until you tell me about your family, this is a two way street.” “Fair enough, let me see”, she begins as we traverse across the Literary Walk along with hundreds of people, “My mother was a store supervisor before she retired, I have two sisters, one was a doctor and is now a stay at home mother, the other one’s a veterinarian who keeps searching for a husband, I have a brother whom you had the pleasure of meeting.” “Yes, the pleasure was definitely all mine. But what about your father?” “Oh, he died when I was a teenager.” “Yes, I remember you telling me that”, but I recall something else. “Hold on, the first time we met, you said your father died when you were 3 years old.” “You must be confusing him with someone else”, she says firmly although I’m sure she’s trying to dodge the question, “We know about our families in a nutshell but what about the rest?” “Sure, we know about our families alright”, I say sarcastically, letting go of the issue for the time being, “Anyway, I don’t know what you want, Emily, that’s pretty much all I have to share.” “What about your decision to move here? How did your parents react to that?” “I guess they were just happy that I was finally getting my life back on track. My dad, God bless him, always had a kind of guilt because he was the one who’d given Leah my number when I was in Oman, if he hadn’t told her then I wouldn’t have struggled. The day before I moved here, he took me out for some ‘Father-son time’, if you’ll believe it, the amusement park.” “Aw, that’s cute.” “It is”, I laugh, “As for my mom, she’s the one who keeps him together, he’s been prone to some clumsiness, that happens when people start getting old, she doesn’t complain but I guess her coping mechanism is complaining about not having grandkids but it’s in good humor, she realizes we’re still trying to find our place. I can see why she would want grandchildren. My brother’s too much of a bookworm to be dating, much less getting married, and me, well, I need to get settled down. So, happy now? I gave you something about my family.” “Yes, thank you. That’s what I was looking for”, she says with gratitude, we sit down on one of the benches nearby. “Do you ever wonder whether you’re going to get to be one of these people?” I ask her as a family of four strolls by us, the youngest one skipping along, too busy in her happiness. “You mean people with families of their own? Yes.” “You sure gave that some thought, have any doubts on it?” “A few. I’m assuming you have them, too.” “Constantly, I always had this picture. It was simple, finish school, get a job, get married and then just like these people, enjoy life with my family.” “And what does the picture show now?” “I guess, it’s like, I know the picture’s there but I don’t stop to look at it much.” “I don’t know what you’re worried about”, she says confidently. “There are so many things I have my doubts over, like my life now or later. But I know for sure that you are going to get the life you want.” “You’re just saying that.” “No, honestly, I’m not. You can make me write it down, you can record my voice saying it. When you see a person talking about something with so much desire, it’s bound to become a reality. The way you spoke of your unborn child, the things you did just to see it, people who have doubts don’t try so hard. And the way you looked at that family, I can see the same desire right now. Oh, and why would you continually try to give treats to children you don’t even know? Or carry treats in the first place? It’s because you’re already a dad! You’re still going to carry them around even though you said you wouldn’t, I’m sure of it. You call your brother by that ridiculous nickname even now. Your brother, the lawyer! I can tell how affectionate you are of him. And your jokes have lame dad jokes written all over them. So, you know what I have to say about that picture? All you need to do is stand a bit further back and appreciate it because you still have plenty of time to figure it out.” Her words spread a big smile to my face, full of gratitude for her sentiment. It’s moments like these which make me love talking to Emily, able to lift my spirits up with her carefully chosen brand of words, cheering me up even though I have no idea whether she truly believes in them. But it doesn’t matter, the sincerity which she speaks is good enough for me every time. For a fleeting second, I imagine myself looking at that picture again only this time I’m not alone. “Thanks.” “Just stating the facts.” “Boy, can you go on a lot”, I joke, “The only thing I got from that is that you think my jokes are lame, now that’s just not true.” “Denial. Remember, the first stage is acceptance.” “Yeah, but I can’t accept it if it’s untrue. And you know what? Someday, I’m going to be a really fun dad.” “A fair bit of warning, teenagers don’t really react well to funny dads.” “Oh, I’ll be firm when I need to be.” I assure her, “What about you, kids in your list, yet?” “Well…” she pauses, I can guess what her answers leaning towards, “It’s not that I don’t want to have kids. I just think for a person, they need to be with someone they want to have one with.” “So, Guy doesn’t want kids?” “I don’t know if I want to have wit-“ She doesn’t finish her sentence. “Actually, we haven’t really discussed it yet.” “Alright”, I say, not wanting to parade on her business. “We need to concentrate on the getting married part first”, she says sounding as if the topic needs no further discussion. “True”, I say cheerily, “Let’s talk about something else, for instance, how much do you bet those kids trip?” I point to a couple of children jumping riskily on a skipping rope. “Don’t say that.” Emily laughs, pushing me gently. “Come on”, I laugh too, “One of them is definitely going to fall, I’m betting on the fat one.” “You’re terrible, betting on children getting hurt.” “So you don’t want in on the action?” “How about telling them to be careful instead?” She goes over to the children, but the kids don’t seem intent on listening to her advice. “So how did it go?” I ask when she returns. “Forget what I said, I’m betting on the skinny one.” “Why the sudden change of heart?” I ask amused. “Because he just called me a word I’m too embarrassed to say out loud.” “Wow, talk about kids these days”, I chuckle, “Then again we’re not much better considering we’re betting on who gets hurt, which will be the fat one.” “No, the chubby one gives it more time”. She analyses, my amusement is cut short. “Oh, time”, I let slip. “What? Oh, you have to be at the office”, she says urgently, “Go on, hurry.” “Yeah, but I guess I have enough to see how our bet turns out.” “I don’t want you getting into trouble”, she insists, just like I knew she would, “Tell you what, how about I give you a call when it happens?” “You sure?” I ask teasingly, “Don’t want to wait another two years?” “I don’t mind, but can you live not knowing which one tripped?” She replies just as playfully. “Ah, that is what’s really important after all, wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if I didn’t know, here’s my number.” “Take mine too, in case your number gets blocked like your e-mail did”, she jokes. “Okay then… Well, Miss Emily Smith. It was a real pleasure having your company with me.” I bow courteously. “The feeling’s mutual, Mr. Nick Parsons”, she replies with a courtesy. We both laugh, I wave goodbye and begin to walk away. A few steps later, a strong feeling of detachment takes over me. I take a glimpse of the bright ambience, the light trickling from the trees, the sounds of families enjoying their day together. Suddenly, the idea of going to the office seems as unappealing as ever. Besides, I discussed with Emily, what good is a bonus in pay when I don’t have anything to do with it? I turn slightly and glance at Emily, the sunlight shining upon her, as if highlighting her importance. She notices my gaze, giving me an enquiring look. I take another sweep of the place before turning to look at her again, smiling. She smiles back, unsure of my behavior yet seemingly amused, magnificently radiant. I take my time appreciating the view. Only after a swaying tree branch blocks the sunlight do I speak. “You know what, Emily?” I call out to her. “Yeah?” “I have nothing to do for the rest of the day”, I tell her happily. “What about your office?” “Don’t have to go.” “So… want to hang out?” She asks enjoyably. I shrug my shoulders, arms spread out. Just then, the thin kid trips on the skipping rope. I look back at Emily, who seems torn between amusement and sympathy. “Looks like you won”, I approach her. “Yeah”, she says, her eyes full of pity for the boy. “You feel bad for him, don’t you?” “Don’t you? Poor kid looks so embarrassed.” “Maybe carrying these treats will work out after all”, I pull the toffees out, “Give these to him.” “You don’t think I’ll look like a creep?” “Are you kidding? Nobody faults beautiful women for giving sweets to kids, if anything, people will like you more. Trust me, I am a dad, like you said.” “Okay”, she heads over to the boy who sits on the ground humiliated, as I watch, Emily offers the candy to the kids who happily take it from her. The thin one even gives her a hug. “What did I tell you?” I ask satisfied as I join her. “I have to give credit where credit’s due”, she admits, “The boy even apologized for before.” “See? I’ve finally found a way to give children candy and not have it look disturbing.” “We do make a great team. So, what happened with work?” “Uh, they said there was no need for me to go down there right now”, I lie, “So here I am.” “Here you are”, she says pleasingly, “So, want to walk?” We move along once more. Now free to do so without the thought of office weighing me down, “So, I’m sensing a soft spot for children in you.” “Kind of, but how can anyone not have them? They look so small and helpless when they’re sad. What do you have a soft spot for?” “I guess, kittens.” “Why kittens specifically?” She asks in disbelief. “Because they’re small and helpless, too.” “Wow, I had no idea you had a special place for kittens.” “I didn’t know you were a thief, stealing someone’s Walkman.” “You’re going to use that a lot, aren’t you?” “Why else do you think I let you keep it?” I ask rhetorically. “But really, why kittens?” “Fine, if you must know, when I was a kid I found this small, helpless looking kitten and adopted it. It got better. Anyway, its real owner came by and took it back. I was sad but the owner said he was thankful to me because the kitten would’ve died. I’ve always felt really good about it.” “That’s a cute story.” “Yeah, I was a really cute kid.” “If only you could’ve carried it into adulthood”. “Mock all you want but the air hostess liked what she saw”, I brag, “You were my witness.” “And you’re going to use that a lot too, aren’t you?” “You know it.” “Remembered your catchphrase, did you? I have to say, you’re reminding me of teenager Nick a lot today.” She observes me, “What’s with the sudden spring in your step?” “You’ll find I have more than just one spring in my steps”, I say, hopping a few feet. “You look crazy, you know that?” “I’m just glad not to be going to the office. I can’t help but be happy. Haven’t you ever felt the need to just jump around, act all crazy?” “I suppose, but not in a long time.” “Well, this is your chance. Come on, let’s jump over those flowers.” “What? We’ll look ridiculous.” “That’s the point. Come on”, I urge, “They’re just flowers and there’s no mud on the other side either, so you won’t be getting dirty.” “I don’t know, Nick”, she says unsurely. “You don’t need to know, just jump.” “Uh.” “That’s it, you’re coming with me.” I pull her quickly before she has a chance to think otherwise and with a small leap, land on the other side, although she trips and brings me down with her as we both fall on the flower bed. It doesn’t hurt at all, more like falling on a soft couch with an ornate perfume. I turn to check on Emily. “That was so stupid”, she rolls around and laughs. “Okay, I agree, that was stupid”. I admit chortling, she lays her head back on the ground gleefully, and I do the same. We laugh ridiculously for a while. “Really, Nick, you love doing silly things just for the fun of it”, she says brightly. “It’s one of my best and most annoying qualities.” “It’s annoying for sure, but it is the best”, she says looking up at the sky, “Have you ever just lied down on the ground and looked up at the sky?” “Pretty much every day, I go to the roof of my building. It’s fun clearing my head.” “I’ve told you this a lot of times”, she turns beaming to me, “But whenever we meet, I always reflect on the way I’ve been living and the way I want to, and crazy as it sounds, lying on the ground and staring at the sky is one of the things I do want.” “I’m glad I have some sort of importance in your life”, I say sincerely as I look her, “And I do mean that, no jokes, and the feeling’s mutual.” “Thanks”, Emily says softly, I smile understandingly. This might be the most comfortable I’ve been in my life. In a bed of blossoms, a beautiful day and sharing this time with her, it couldn’t get more genuine than this. “You know who I used to lie down and look up at the sky with?” She asks, not breaking her alluring gaze, the smile still etched on her face. “Who?” I ask absently, it seems hard to believe if there is anyone else other than the two of us at the moment. “My father. I used to come here… with him”, she says getting up, as I realize there are other people in the world. “Huh?” My mind comes to grips with her words. “I lied before, Nick”, she says and a great sadness takes over her, “My dad died when I was 15.” “Why would you lie?” I comment uncertainly. “Probably because I’ve lied about it to every person I’ve met. I haven’t told anyone about him.” “But, why?” “You told me how you felt when your brother died. The guilt you felt for so long”, her voice trembles, “I still carry mine.” “Do you mind if I ask what happened?” I ask her, trying to ease into this sudden change of atmosphere. “Sure”, she says, tone still unsteady, “I actually brought it up because I wanted to apologize to you.” “Apologize to me, for what?” “You’ve always been so honest with me, about everything. Your marriage, your struggles and your family but I’ve never repaid that sincerity. I should have given you the benefit of being my friend”, she wells up, “It’s just that I’ve tried so hard to escape from it.” “Take it easy”, I say, helping her up to a bench. “Why the sudden change of heart?” “Because lying there with the entire sky in front of my eyes just overwhelmed me and you’re here, so it couldn’t be a better time to tell you.” “You don’t have to, if it’s too difficult”, I tell her, judging by her current state, shivering on such a hot day. “No, I really have to get it out”, she says with determination, “I’ve held it back for a long time.” “Okay”, I say gently, “If you want to.” “My dad and I had always been extremely close.” She begins. “I always admired him, he was my hero. You don’t know, no one does, but I wasn’t always like this. So rigid in my plans, I didn’t give much thought to my future. It was because I knew my dad would always be there for me.” I wonder inwardly what a careless Emily would be like, it’s hard to imagine. “But it also made me irresponsible. My dad had to cover up for me so many times, according to him, I had it in me to be the most responsible one in our family, but instead of taking his faith into stride, I exploited it”, she says with self-disgust, “I used it as an excuse justify my rude behavior. I didn’t realize when I took it too far when I met…” “Who?” I ask intrigued, the answer to my long lingering question may finally be answered. “His name was John. He was a senior in school, I’d just turned 15, and at that time most of my classmates had started experimenting. They began drinking. I tried not to get under their influence, until he noticed me. Every girl wanted to be with him and when he took an interest, I couldn’t help myself. He’d take me out, get me involved in all those things and I wouldn’t mind, because I was with him”, Emily reveals, much to my great surprise. “To me, as long as he and I were together, it didn’t matter what we did, he made me lose any interest in studies, he just laughed at the very idea. Remember when I told you how I felt when I was at the library? It was because I used to go there with my dad, he loved reading, I told John what it meant to me but it didn’t matter to him in the slightest. He told me my dad was just making up excuses for the disappointing life we’d lived. And… I believed him.” She closes her eyes in grief as the level of hatred in her voice rises. “I stopped respecting my parents, I was convinced John was the only one who truly loved me. I wanted to marry him. I made up this whole fantasy for us, living with our kids in some mansion”, she says scoffing at her past ideas, “He persuaded me into running away with him. According to John, our parents were only holding us back, we could fly over to a different city and start our lives together. I can’t believe I was so stupid!” She covers her face. I give her some time to continue. “He told me to meet him at the airport. My dad found out and said it wasn’t too late to make amends, warning me about John. But I made it clear that John and I were leaving. Dad tried to stop me but I ran out. I-I told him that I hated him before I left. When I got there…” she pauses as if picturing the memory in front of her. “I saw John with someone else, he’d told the other girl the same things. He ‘apologized’ to the both of us and said it was never serious. It meant nothing to him. I was devastated, I rushed back home to apologize to my dad, but found my mother crying. Dad had a heart attack, he’d gone after me, assuming I’d gotten on the flight where it happened. If he’d been on the ground then they could’ve saved him. But up there, there was nothing anyone could’ve done.” Emily wipes her eyes to no use as they well up instantly, I look at her sadly, I can do nothing about it, as much as I would like to help her, somehow change the past or at least find John and give him a punch in the face. “That’s when the fear of airplanes rose up, I couldn’t get on them without thinking of my father sitting in one of the seats, about to die. All because of me”, she goes on, the tears continue to fall, “I resolved to never let myself go again. My mother struggled to provide for us, it almost tore the family apart, my brother found John and beat him up so bad that he was arrested. That was such a difficult time for us, I contemplated suicide, but my mother made me realize that killing myself would mean that my father died in vain. I decided the only way I could try to make up for it was to accomplish everything. Finishing college, supporting my family and becoming independent, just like he wanted me to.” “I’m sure if he were here, he’d be proud of what you’ve achieved”, I tell her consolingly as she weeps silently. “If only I knew, I want to know so badly whether I’ve moved on from his death but I just don’t.” “Hey, the important thing to remember is that you’ve lived up to what he wanted from you”, I say, “If nothing else, I can tell you he’d be glad you didn’t at least quit.” “How can you be so sure about it?” “Because I know that my brother would’ve kicked my ass had I gone through with throwing myself in the ocean like I was going to”, I say, she gives me a watery smile. “The last words I said to him were ‘I hate you’. That’s different, Nick.” “Is it? We both did something stupid and we both paid for it but think about this, Emily, do you think you think he thought for a second you meant those words? Because regardless of what you said to your father, or what I said to my brother, they both came after us, they both gave their lives for us. Because that’s what someone does when they love someone unconditionally.” “But what good came from him coming after me?” “Whatever it took to get you on that beach, to save a life… to save mine”, I express my gratitude, “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for you. If your mom hadn’t given you that lesson in life, it all happened for a reason.” “You really believe in those things?” “I don’t know. But you make me want to”. I tell her, her tears subside as she looks at me with curiosity, perhaps wondering whether my words are genuine, the intensity I feel convinces me that I am. “You must think of me as such a mess”, she says wiping her face. “I was a mess too, if you remember, and you fixed me, your father taught you how”, I give a small laugh, “I’m really sorry about him.” “It’s just this guilt, I don’t know whether it’s still there or not, but I feel it whenever I think I’ve moved on.” “You feel as if you don’t deserve to be happy because of what you did.” “Exactly. And I know the only thing I can do is accept my loss but I just don’t know how.” “Don’t hide it. Tell everyone about him, don’t pretend he was never there. You told me, and I don’t think any less of you. After all, you came back wonderfully, you matured. It’s a success story.” “I don’t know how to tell someone the way he died. It’s too shameful.” “What did Guy say when you told him?” “Actually… I never did”, she says meekly, surprising me. “I’ve never told anyone, just you.” I feel strange at the fact that she preferred to share this information with me rather than her fiancé. “There you have it, Emily. You’ve let it fester inside of you for so long, it has to come out at some point. Look, you need to share this with the people you know. Your dad was admirable. Let his memory be admired.” “You’re right, I thought I’d let you know”, she tells me, “Because… it’s easier with you.” “That means a lot”, I tell her honestly. “Thanks, Nick. For listening, it must have been a big shock to you.” “Oh, we’re not done with this.” “What do you mean?” “I know it’s not possible to get over your loss in a day but remember when you made me climb on that rock to help me move? Let’s try something like that.” “What do you have in mind?” “Come on”, we get up from the bench, moving quickly. I sprint excitedly as Emily catches up when we arrive at the open field of the park, the Sheep Meadow. “Ta-da.” “What are we doing here?” “You said you haven’t lain down and looked up at the sky, so here we are, an open field for you to do so. Let’s find a good spot.” We shift through the many people enjoying their picnics until arriving at an open spot. “I’m not sure if it’s going to work, Nick.” Emily looks at me doubtfully. “It doesn’t have to, it’s just about remembering your father”, I suggest, she rests herself beside me, “Just picture the days you were with him here, and I guess, accept it.” Nick says all these things with such warranty. I can tell he’s trying hard for me to feel better. And I appreciate it. Even if it doesn’t work, the weight I’ve felt all these years, keeping this information to myself, has lifted. It’s out there now, someone else knows about it, it’s not a secret that I’ve locked in a cage within me anymore. The best thing to do would be to set it free, maybe into the open vastness I see above me. So many memories of him at so many points in my life. Infancy, childhood, adolescence. All those spent lying beside my father, my hero. The jubilance I’d felt in those days soothingly finds itself back in me as my eyes search the clear blue skies, for the silver lining I’d stopped looking for. The whispering wind confuses me for his voice. I can almost imagine him, telling me it would be alright, like he always did. I thought so many times of telling Guy about all of this, yet it never felt right. Because I couldn’t if I tried, I’m sure of it. This secret of mine, so selfishly protected, would never allow me to let it loose. It was as if I needed someone who could draw it out of me, even when I didn’t want to, or if I couldn’t. “I’ll give you a minute by yourself”, I hear Nick’s voice, instantly my hand reaches out to his, I don’t want him to leave. Having him here makes me feel sheltered from all my negativity. I feel him lying back again, not letting go of my hand. Neither of us speaks, the serenity of the day surrounds us in perfect harmony. A shadow moves across my closed eyes as I open them to see a cloud blocking the sun. That was the indication for me to pick myself up. It’s time, Emily, time to move on from the past, stop letting it control you. It’s been over a decade, I need to let it go. And that’s what I’m going to do. “It’s fine if you want to stay a little longer”, says Nick. “No, I’m alright. Thank you, Nick. Really.” “So you feel better, huh? I hope you keep feeling that way.” “You know, I think I will”. I say smiling, “Well, I think we’ve had our deep conversation for today.” “I thought something was missing the entire time today”, he jokes, “By the looks of it, it might be coming to an end soon.” The sky does look paler than before. “So, what’s the plan for you tonight? Now that going to the office was cancelled.” “I’m going to go home and dump this coat somewhere, having worn it for so long, it’s started to feel like a weight of its own.” “You can come to my apartment if you like”, I suggest automatically, Nick looks at me in surprise, “You know, to take your coat off for a while.” I clarify quickly. “Oh… alright, I guess.” “It’s not too far from here. We just need to find our way out of the park and get into a cab.” “Fine, lead the way.” We leave the meadow. I quickly take one more glance to fully make peace with my acceptance before continuing along the way. Dozens of people move past or along with us, my thoughts go toward them. Wondering what kind of lives they might be leading outside of this park. Whether this couple beside us really is happy or if they’re trying to make their relationship work, or what the man sitting on a bench nearby is thinking about as he looks around with such deliberation. I’m plagued by these thoughts so much these days. According to Nick, I should be writing these down. He might be able to picture me as an author but I don’t see it. We approach the quieter side of the park where only intimate couples like to venture, surrounding us, either walking hand in hand or cozying themselves in a corner. Guy and I tried to be like them but it never worked out. It just seemed too forced. We simply gave up on it. I’m embarrassed to say I prefer it that way, so that I didn’t feel obligated to do so. “We seem to be surrounded by love birds”, says Nick. “Yes, have you ever been one of these?” “Yeah, when Leah and I got engaged. We used to go to the beach, but it’s pretty much the same concept.” “Miss it?” “I don’t know, I still didn’t think of it as picture perfect. It was nice to have someone but there was the feeling I could be there with anyone else and still have it be the same. I guess that’s what happens when you’re with the person you’re not meant to be with. What about you?” “More or less the same”, I decide to be honest, full disclosure, “We just stopped trying to be one of these people. It was the same with John, I’d try to make him feel like I did but now I know, I didn’t feel that way either.” “So… what, you’ve decided to steer clear of romance?” “I seem to be headed that way, or have always been.” “Is Guy okay with it?” “He seems okay.” “I don’t think I would ever settle for that. I think I’m going to keep looking because the alternative scares the hell out of me.” “I’ve never thought of it that way.” “I’ve never thought of it any other way. Just picture it, hiding in the most secluded of spots. Hand in hand, no need for anyone else. The whole world one side and you two in one”. “You must have some other way of picturing it because I can’t, really.” “Okay, then what about when he proposed to you? That must have been intimate?” “Actually, no. I thought he was going to propose to me on the beach but he called in some of his friends for a party and during it, asked me the question”, I tell him. “So it wasn’t intimate, more like put on the spot. But it’s okay, I knew about it already.” Nick looks as if Christmas has been taken away. “That’s… something”, he says clearly trying to reserve his judgment on Guy’s proposal. “You don’t like it.” “It’s something”, he repeats unconvincingly. “I can tell you think it blows.” “Fine, you want my honest opinion? I do think it blows. I’m sorry but you deserved better than that.” “Did I?” I ask, trying to feel offended at him for disparaging Guy’s proposal but not finding the ability to. “Because I think he got it right, considering my personality.” “Your personality?” “Yeah, he knows I don’t like grand gestures.” “But you don’t like being put on the spot in front of strangers either, do you?” “Well…” “You know, Emily, you say you don’t like romance or wanting to be swept off your feet but what you told me contradicts that. You tried so hard to make that douche John love you the same way you did, hell, you were prepared to fly off somewhere else for him. And I’m sorry, I’m not trying to exploit that information but what I’m trying to say is that you weren’t entirely wrong there. It was just the wrong guy.” He says fiercely, “Being in love, it’s incredible and it’s something in my opinion that should be celebrated.” “Okay then, if you think Guy’s proposal was bad then what would you have done?” I ask him, now feeling irritated. Nick’s been on my case the entire day for not being romantically open, even after I’ve told him that it’s not who I am anymore. He’s repeatedly told me that I do have tendencies to feel otherwise. How is it that he can tell so many things about me that even I don’t know? “Tell me how would you have proposed to me if it was you?” “Alright then!” He says defiantly, “You want to know? I wouldn’t have taken you to the beach, I would’ve taken you somewhere you love. The library, I remember the spot behind the small maze it took to get there. Only you and I know about it. I’d try to use riddles although know you would be too smart for them, placing things like the Walkman or things we got from Muscat. And when you found everything, they’d lead you right to the fountain, the place where I noticed how… seamless you are, for the first time. And place the book you’ve wanted from me from the first day we’ve met there, and just when you thought that was the gift, you’d turn around and find me on my knee. With the ring I’d torn the city across to find, and before I proposed, I’d tell you. Tell you that, I would do anything, everything I can to make sure you have the best life. Tell you that no matter what happened or will happen, I would never leave you stranded, never leave you lonely. Tell you that I would always be there whenever you need me, especially when you got scared sitting in those flights, I’d hold your hand, and hold it as long as you want me to, and hope that you would hold mine when I got too scared of heights, because you’re the only one I want to take with me up there. But I wouldn’t place the ring on your finger up until you…” He goes silent, not finishing the sentence. Perhaps it’s me, I would imagine my face must be brimming with emotion for his words. The words which settle so deep, I find it hard to breathe. Despite that, I feel a longing for more. Because everything he just said is what I want in the one to be with, I just didn’t know it till now. Never had it been like this with John, nor with Guy. The deep seated affections I’d worked so hard to push down these last few years have risen back. And I don’t see a way out this time. “Of course, um… all of this is hypothetical, I just meant that, this is the sort of thing I would’ve done”, Nick says slowly, “But I suppose Guy could’ve said something like that as well, I wasn’t there so I don’t know.” She doesn’t speak, I must have said way more than I should have. It’s not my place to judge her ideals in life. But it was just that her claims, of not being the person I can tell she is, didn’t settle well with me because in my opinion, she and Guy aren’t right for one another. He doesn’t understand her, or rather she can’t let him try to understand her. Then again, she’s been with him for years and met me only occasionally, so can I honestly judge their relationship? And even if I can, what gives me the right to? All those words simply spilled out of my mouth, I had never thought of any scenario of me proposing to her before, in fact, I wasn’t thinking when I said it. Every word came out at an impulse, it was stupid. Yet, it makes sense, doesn’t it? “I think this setting’s gotten to my head”, I decide to go with blaming the environment, “Maybe we should get out of here.” “Sure”, she agrees absently, her sight still on me. We slowly move along on our way and I pretend to observe the surrounding trees in order to occupy myself from the silence that encircles us. “So… do you ever here come here on your usual visits to the park?” I attempt to change the topic. “No.” “How come?” “You saw it for yourself, this place is for couples.” “Then how come we…” I quickly stop in midsentence, “Never mind. You know, I’m slightly disappointed. I would’ve thought you’d be giving me several points of interest about this park. Considering you usually know everything.” “Alright, well, we’re on a bridge. Did you know that no two bridges in Central Park are alike?” “I did not know that”, I say robotically, “Thank you for sharing that knowledge.” “You realize you sound mechanical.” “I think it’s better if I do, I’ve been talking way too much about emotions today, the thing is, I tend to think about these things, because you know, I’m weird that way.” “It’s not a bad thing. After watching you being so unsure for years, it’s nice to see that you know what you want.” “Thanks, but let me clarify that what I said was just an impulse. Please don’t think I was trying slander Guy.” “No, it’s okay”, she says calmly. “Good to know. Nice view, huh?” I point out the scenery of the lake and the city. “Yeah, some might call it… Seamless.” She says smiling quietly making me stop in my tracks, as I notice she had done the same. “You caught that part, did you?” “Little bit. So, did you mean it?” “Oh”, I smile embarrassedly, “Well, yeah, I guess. But it was just something I noticed in passing”. She laughs softly. “It’s okay, Nick. I’m not going to scold you for it.” “I’m thankful for that. It’s just that I think you look different today than usual.” “You look different, too.” “I know, the wild mane was no good.” “I didn’t think it was bad. In fact, you’ve never looked bad to me. I’ve always thought of you as… smart”, she says in a tiny voice. “What’s that, now?” I ask pleasantly. “Well, one might think you’re a good looking guy. I’ll leave it at that.” “And who might one be?” “Forget I said anything”, she says in that small embarrassed voice. “I know who you’re talking about, Emily.” “You do?” She asks blushing. “Yeah, the flight attendant, of course.” I say, Emily looks scandalized. “Now that I think about it, it might be the coat that looks good and not you. Let’s just get going.” The rest of our walk goes by happily as we discuss other things such as current plans and other random stuff. Along the way we comment on the prettiness of the park or imagine back stories of the people we see, among others. Nick drops some ice cream we bought from a stand on his coat as the two of us realize we’ve been walking in circles. It’s been such a beautiful day, a pity the sun had to go down so soon. Time goes by so fast when you’re with someone you enjoy talking to. The two of us catch up on our lives as we finally reach the exit. “You know, the offer still stands. You could relax at my apartment.” “It’s alright, I think it makes more sense for me to go home…But I could see you off till your house.” “Part of your chivalrous nature?” “Oh, you know me so well.” “Some aspects, yes. Although I’d say you know me, too.” “I do know you, Emily Smith.” “I told you all about my past but I’m sure you think this was the best piece of information.” “How can it not be? You’re related to Will Smith.” “I’m not.” “Well, that’s what I’ll be telling people.” Yet again we get lost in our conversation. A cab driver honks to gain our attention. We humorously take our seats while dusk makes its arrival, covering the streets with shadows of the tall buildings. “If I had to choose which time of day I disliked I would have to say dusk”, says Nick. “Why?” “Because I don’t get it. It’s like the sky can’t make its mind up whether it wants to be bright or dark.” “Maybe like all transitions, it’s not easy to adjust to it.” “Never thought of it like that.” “What’s your favorite time of day?” “Mornings, I love the look the city has at that time. Fresh and full of life. What’s your favorite?” “I don’t know, I haven’t really thought about it before.” “If it makes it easier for you to decide, Mornings are when you get your…seamlessness.” He tells me, flattering me the way he did back at the bridge. “I’d say I look the best during mornings as well but now that I know it’s just my coat.” “I was just kidding.” “Doesn’t change the fact that only the flight attendant thinks I’m handsome”, he says jokingly. “It’s not just the flight attendant who thinks that, you know”, I say quietly, smiling shyly, unable to help myself. He looks at me just as shyly. “Thanks”, says Nick, ruffling his hair, sounding pleased. We both look about, unsure of what to say next, but definitely not feeling awkward, just another one of those moments we have. “Why am I not surprised to see museums close to where you live?” asks Nick amused. “A happy coincidence? You could go there with me if you like.” “I think the library was enough. But we could decide on somewhere else.” “I’d like that.” “I’ve got your number, so you can’t avoid me.” “I have absolutely no intention of doing that”, I tell him, I’m sure he can see the truthfulness with which I speak. The car jolts to a stop. “Let me”, Nick hands the man my charge. “You didn’t have to.” “It’s fine, the least I could do for today. Plus, you did save me from getting a beating from your brother.” He makes me laugh as we step out. “Well… I guess this is it for now.” I nod along clumsily. Not wanting to say goodbye so soon but not having an excuse to make him stay either. He turns around to leave. “You know, I might be able to get that stain off”. I blurt out. “You mean the one on my coat?” “Yeah, if you want to”, I say hastily, feeling stupid at my lame excuse, “My mother showed me a way. I could try it out. Besides, that way you could see my apartment too. You always wanted to see an uptown place, remember?” Nick looks at me strangely, probably marveling at how dumb I’m being. “I guess I could come up for a few minutes”, I say casually, although the inside of my chest feels like fireworks in the night sky. “Alright, let’s go”, she says walking inside the building. I pay the cabbie. “Nicely done”, the driver says raunchily, surprising me. “What? No! I’m just her friend”, I splutter defensively, “She’s just showing me her apartment and cleaning my coat.” “Yeah, that’s how it starts”, the man keeps smiling creepily “And well, I don’t wanna spoil the end for you.” “The only thing you spoiled was your chance for a tip.” I tell him heatedly and follow Emily inside. Some people will assume anything. I’m only going up as her friend. Just to check out her apartment, maybe fix my coat, politely compliment the place and head back home. That is all. No double meanings. Then why is my heart beating so hard against my ribs? Probably because of the height, she lives way up. Although we’re still on the ground floor. Shut up, Nick! The elevator doors slide shut leaving just the two of us confined in the small space. Thank God I’m not claustrophobic, imagine how lame I would’ve looked if I was. Then again, what would it have mattered? I don’t want to impress her, anyway, why am I trying to act so cool? “This is a pretty elevator.” What the hell was that? Who compliments an elevator? “Wow, you live way up.” “I know. I just never liked the idea of living on the ground floor in such a tall building.” “Imagine getting stuck in this lift. Knowing our luck, it might just.” “That won’t be a problem. We could just continue talking, it’s worked out pretty well for us so far.” “Yeah, it has.” The lift stops to a halt and the doors slide open. “Or we could step out and I’ll show you my apartment.” She says amusingly. “You know, that was going to be my next suggestion.” I say sarcastically. The place has a very humble feel to it. As if stepping into the small hotels in Italy, I loved them. “For an upscale neighborhood, your building sure looks pretty decent.” “I chose it because of that reason. It has a modest feel, doesn’t it?” “Sure does, reminds me of Italy. You’d love it there.” “I hope I get to travel there someday.” “I will again, definitely.” “Who knows? Maybe we could go together.” “It’s a deal”. My spirits lift spontaneously at the thought, I try to stem down, she might just be saying that to be nice. “Well, this is me”, she says as we step inside her apartment. The scent of flowers overwhelms me pleasantly as I enter, the apartment is decorated with them at every corner, windows at each side, the place must resemble a beautiful meadow during daytime. Posters framed on every wall, perhaps from Europe, provide a tasteful elegance. Here too, the feeling of modesty surrounds the air, making me feel instantly welcome. A mirror stands at the end, reflecting the entire flat, as I notice its most distinctive aspect. There aren’t any rooms. In spite of the unusual architectural style, I have to admit it goes very well with the setting. I feel like I’ve been here before. As if I’m back in Italy. “What do you think?” “I think you don’t need to go to Italy. You already live there.” “I hope that’s a good thing.” “It’s a great thing”, I tell her, my eyes continuing to travel around the apartment. “I can’t help but notice the absence of rooms.” “Yeah, it wasn’t like this when I moved in, I renovated it. I am an architect, remember?” “So why go with this style?” “You might have noticed the windows, I loved how they brightened up the place and I envisioned myself living in a place where I could simply walk in and find it radiant, like basking in the sun’s brilliance. And the partitions got in the way of that. Besides, it’s not like I need more than one bed.” “I’m thinking this is where you sit down to read?” I point at a comfortable looking chair, a book resting on it, a small desk next to it. “It’s a pity I didn’t come here earlier in the day, I’m sure it must have a glowing look at that time.” “It has its perks at night as well”, she says, tugging on a rope on the side, with her pull, a curtain on the ceiling shifts aside, revealing the entire sky in view. Auburn, with a few stars already visible. Magnificent. “That’s incredible”, I exclaim at the uniqueness, “You’ve got a great view at all times.” “Sometimes I like to just lie in bed and look up at stars at night.” “I bet you could get a great deal of thinking done. If not, then a peaceful sight before going to sleep.” “I’m glad you like it.” “I love it”, I say enthusiastically, “All of it, this place is great”. She seems delighted at my opinion. “Thank you.” “And thank you for showing me your apartment.” “It’s my pleasure.” “Mine as well”, I say, we laugh at our formal exchange of praises. “So… your shirt.” “Oh, yeah, right”. I’d forgotten about the reason of coming up here. Emily picks a few things out from the kitchen cabinets while I wait. “Please, make yourself comfortable.” I imagine what living here would be like. Waking up to find a beautiful morning sunlight greeting me, sitting on one of the chairs and immersing myself in a book, coming back from work and feeling relaxed by the scent of the ornate flowers decorated and going to bed by looking at the night sky. It gives me a certain amount of joy to picture it. “Here, let’s try this out”, she comes back with a napkin and a strange looking liquid. “What is that?” “Something my mother swears by for stains.” She dabs my coat with the substance. “Give it a few minutes and I’m sure it’ll clear out. How about you take it off?” “Alright.” I hand it to her. “How about giving me something to drink? I am a guest after all.” “Oh, sorry, where are my manners”. “I’m just kidding”. “No no, you’re right”, she goes by the fridge, “Looks like I’m out, unfortunately, but you want some grape juice?” “How weird is it? I love grape juice.” I pretend as she hands it to me in a glass, “I hope I don’t spill this.” “Don’t worry, I might have a shirt you could borrow”, she jokes. “That’s a relief and here I was nervous I might embarrass myself”, I say as we laugh, “I have to tell you, I never thought I’d ever get to see your place.” “Honestly, I didn’t either. Who knew after so many years, we’d keep running into each other?” “To never having to run into each other again.” I suggest, raising my glass of grape juice. “I’ll drink to that”, says Emily, “Let’s check your coat, shall we?” “Your mother is a genius.” I marvel as she hands it back to me. “I’ll be sure to tell her that. So, how does my apartment line up with others you’ve seen in your time in this city?” I ask him. “Well, I haven’t seen many, but I’m sure if I had, yours would be on top.” “How come you haven’t seen many?” “I don’t really know anyone here and it’s not like I’ve been dating.” He puts his hand to his mouth embarrassedly as he tells me this. “Is that so?” I ask, my interest piquing, feeling slightly pleased, which I try to ignore. “Great. Now you know I’m all alone.” “It’s alright.” “Isn’t it weird, though? How I wanted to be the playboy but am completely single.” “I don’t think it’s all bad. At least you’ll know when you’re with the right person.” “Only problem is whether someone thinks I’m right for her.” “Of course there’ll be someone”, I say definitively, “After all, you’re good looking, charming, a great listener and fun to be around. Who would want to pass that up? Leah was foolish to let you go. I mean, I personally...” I faze myself out, perhaps saying too much. “I don’t know what John’s problem was either. You’re a caring, thoughtful and attractive person yourself”, he says just as sincerely, but with the air of having said too much himself, “Well… you know what I mean”. We busy ourselves with the grape juice. Both having complimented the other more than necessary, giving ourselves a formal smile between sips. I can’t help feel overwhelmed, right this morning I’d attempted to hide from him and here we are, in my apartment of all places. After spending the day together, sharing our views, our past, his proposal was so moving… “What’s this? You wrote it yourself?” Nick asks spotting the draft work I’d left lying around. “Yeah, it’s just something I do in my spare time.” “Either you had a lot of free time or you really love writing. I have a feeling it’s the latter. You mind if I read a bit?” “Well…” I linger, part of me wanting him to read while the other unsure whether to let him in on the private side of me. “Okay, how about a random page where two people are having a casual conversation? You can choose.” “Fine, but you’ll have to act it out with me.” “If you want to.” He laughs. I open a page on random. Nick stands close next to me. We both lean in to read. I barely read the first line when I realize this to be one of the more romantic scenes and quickly try to put the draft away. “It’s stupid, I’ll work on it and then we’ll try again.” “No way. I want to read it even more now.” Nick laughs and attempts to snatch it out of my hand. We comically tussle for it. I hide it behind my back while he makes a grab for it. In my resistance, I carelessly lean back and find myself tripping. However, Nick catches me before I fall, his hands around my waist while mine wrapped around his neck. We straighten up but stay in the same position, her hand slowly moves away and touches gently against my shoulder. The feeling in my chest erupts, unlike any sensation felt before. I try to turn away but find it impossible to do so. My thoughts go instantly back to the moment on the beach, when she had moved just as close, for a different reason then. My eyes travel straight to her face, noticing the elegance with which her hair parts, the gracefulness of her eyes, her lips parted slightly, hearing her breathe. I’d backed away two years ago, today, I don’t want to move. I deliberately keep my vision focused on his shirt, not wanting to look at him. The anxiousness burning within me, there’s no point holding onto him any longer but I can’t seem to want to move away. On the previous occasion, he had. Now, he remains in his place. I feel his eyes on me. “Um… thanks for…” I whisper inaudibly. She says something barely more than a whisper, which I don’t catch. The next moment, she looks up. I know I must feel guilty or responsible but I can’t remember what for. It’s as if time has stopped. There might not even be a world out there, just this apartment and the two of us. Trapped in this moment. At the mercy of the next. Whatever happens, it depends on either one of us. Should I tell her what I’m feeling? Should I tell him what I’m feeling? The sound of a key turning at the door shatters the moment. I instantly pull away from Emily as the door opens and a man enters surprised to see me there. “Oh, uh, who are you?” “This is Nick”, Emily interjects, looking flustered. “I believe I’ve heard of you before”, the man comments, I come back to my senses. “You must be Guy”, I move forward to shake his hand, “Nice to meet you.” “You too”, he says, seeming unsure of my presence in the apartment, “How come you’re here?” “I invited him up here to see our apartment.” Emily tells him, hearing her call it ‘our’ apartment makes me feel as if something heavy just dropped on me. “You both live here?” “Yes”, says Emily, not meeting my gaze. “I know what you’re thinking. What are we doing living in a place like this? I ask myself the same question, but, she’s the architect, you know, so no matter how wacky her ideas may seem, I have to live with it, huh?” “Yeah… I hear you”, I say, suddenly not wanting to stay another moment in the apartment, “I really have to be going, it was nice meeting you.” “So soon? I haven’t even gotten to ask you what happened to your coat.” “You can always ask Emily, you live in the same place, after all.” “Nice one”, Guy laughs, “I like him, Emily.” “It’s hard not to”, she says in a small voice. Hearing her speak makes me want to leave even more. “I’ll see you around”, I say, walking out the door and hurrying towards the elevator. Feeling the guilt I’d suppressed. She’s engaged. Bottom line, she was just trying to clean my coat and, idiot that I am, I’d taken it to mean something else. I get into the lift and repeatedly press the button to go down, just as the doors are about to slide shut, a hand appears to stop them. It’s Emily. “Nick, why are you leaving so fast?” “I forgot I have someone I need to meet. It’s urgent.” “Well, is it okay if I call you later?” “Yeah, sure.” “Right, just giving you a heads up”, she says, moving back. “See you later.” “Well, don’t let us keep you”, Guy shows up putting his arm around her. I hastily push the lift button again. There’s no chance of me seeing Emily again. All day I’ve been wrestling my feelings towards her, not sure what they meant but now I know. That moment at the beach was a defining one, it changed how I looked at her, and there’s no way I can go back. But she’s engaged to Guy. I won’t try to lure her away from him. That was something that Leah would have done, and the one thing I’ll never be is someone like her. Besides, Emily said it clearly earlier today, she doesn’t feel that way. I decide to shut it all out of my mind just as the elevator doors slide shut themselves, and close her out of my life. Chapter Seven - 2013 – Her – Winter Here I am. For the first time in my life, I have no idea where I’m headed. My hands on the wheel, each day it took me to the same place. So many times I’d convince myself that this was where my life had always headed towards. But it was a lie, a cover up. I always knew it was more than that. I could try and make myself satisfied but that wasn’t the problem. I wasn’t happy. If my younger self had ever known I’d be giving up so much someday, she’d never let me hear the end of it. There’s no point in dwelling over these thoughts. Now that I think about it, this actually might be just the time. Odd, how people without jobs were the ones supposed to be constantly worrying but I was the one doing it. I can remember the last time I’d worried about something other than work. Two years ago, one of the most defining days of my life, I still marvel at how it went. Embarrassment, laughter, sadness, remembrance, longing, reflection, and finally acceptance, these had been many of the emotions I’d experienced. All within the span of a single day, and yet, it had still ended incomplete. What I’d set my heart on doing couldn’t be done. He had never picked up. I’d tried so many times, searched all around but he couldn’t be found. Maybe it had all been just a simple mistake or… he didn’t want to talk to me. But it couldn’t be, I couldn’t have been the only one who… Forget about it, Emily. Whatever happened, happened for a reason. And it was a good one too. I figured out how I felt. From that day on, all the resentment at myself and the recurring bouts of guilt had gone. I made a decision that I’ve never regretted. 7.30 am, and I have no clue where to go. I could easily spend the day in bed. Yet, the need to do something still remains. As always, my mind can’t contain the numerous ideas swirling around in my head. A majority of which I feel might be wonderful to read on paper. I miss the days when these thoughts were nothing more than general wonderings but ever since he suggested I pursue a career as a novelist, these have been trying to fight their way out of my head. But in the end, they don’t. It’s preposterous to take it seriously. Emily Smith sounds nothing like a writer’s name. I’d have to come up with a separate one. How about ‘Crossbeam Queen’? I suggest to myself sarcastically. Honestly, the things I think of, I should be concentrating on the road but the fact that I have no idea where I should be going makes me feel resistance against these musings is futile. So I let my mind wander away. His Wow! I can’t believe it’s just half past seven and I’m free. This is some day to marvel. People in droves hurry along towards their offices, I stifle a laugh. At this time yesterday I was quicker than any one of these poor suckers. 24 hours later I’m walking out feeling light as a feather? Years of hard work paying off. I can say it, Nick Parsons is successful. It sounds unbelievable. Nick Parsons of all people has job security for life. This is a peculiar sensation. Success. It’s just that I’ve finally gotten the break I’ve wanted for so long. No strings attached, no catches, a triumph of my own. What I’d like to do is go over to my Mom and Dad’s and tell them all about the tenure. Since they’ve shifted over to New York I’ve felt a sort of calm living here. Then there’s Mikey too, little brother finally has a reason to be proud of me, it’ll be nice for it to be the other way round for once. Thinking of everyone’s reaction to my news makes me smile, I can imagine what they’re going to be like, it’s going to be great. But one face comes to mind without warning. Unlike the others whose faces seem like a blur, hers I can see clearly, so unmistakably that she might be right in front of me. I haven’t made myself think of her for more than a few seconds these past couple of years but I can’t do that now, I don’t want to. Just seeing the look on her face, whenever she was proud of me, was worth more than any accomplishment I might’ve had. I can picture her delighted. She always made me feel as if she too felt what I felt. We shared our sorrow, our joy and I would’ve loved so dearly to have shared this with her, a sort of sadness takes over me that I can’t tell her. But it was my own decision not to keep her in my life. How could I though? I didn’t just want a friendship. But life had a way with us, it brought us together always at the wrong times. It could have been so right two years ago, one of the happiest days of my life with the saddest of ends. I stayed true to my promise, the last time I saw her face just as the elevator doors had slid shut. Still, today’s one of those days when her absence in my life is saddening. Emily, the dearest friend I’ve had. If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t have had this tenure to begin with. That’s enough lamenting for now, Nick. Enjoy yourself. You get a birthday and a promotion. A quick glance at my watch tells me I’ve wasted about fifteen minutes rooted to this spot. The glare from the sun hits my watch and bounces into my eye. Not again, it’s about time I get a new one. I shield my eyes with my hand, the watch reflects the light once more, this time to the left just when a car speeds in my direction. It happens so fast that I don’t even realize what happens. One moment I’m walking, the next I’m on the ground. My back feels like it’s on fire. The sky bursts in front of my eyes as I lay on the ground too weak to lift myself up. My eyes search the skies as if waiting for faces to appear although no one arrives. Consequently, my vision begins to fade as I start drifting away. I see someone. She’s familiar, in fact, looking at her calms me, although, my heart begins to beat faster. My fuzzy brain attempts to remember who she is. An angel, perhaps? Her beautiful face laced with concern is all I see against the white backdrop. In spite of my immobility I somehow manage to reach out for her hand, she holds it dearly. The gentleness with which she does snaps my memory back. “Emily?” I manage to ask aloud. Unfortunately that’s all I can muster as my consciousness reaches the end of its tether. If she really is an angel then I’ll gladly let her take me. My face stretches into a smile before I finally slip away. “Nick?” “Nick?” I hear someone call my name repeatedly, I want to respond but this cloud I lie on feels extremely relaxing. But why would I be on one? My hands grope around to feel the surface, some sort of fabric, I reach further. It’s a metal bar, I move my left hand to confirm the existence of another one on the other side when a sharp pang shoots up, instantly making me open my eyes. The cloud is actually a bed, and a drip is inserted into my hand. The memory of getting struck by the car on the street comes rushing back. I rub my head while examining the surroundings. It’s still a blur, I make out the writing on the drip. Name: Parsons, Nick Age: 31 Blood type: AB negative I’m in a hospital, the question is, how did I get here? A faint image of a woman comes to me. For some reason, I get a feeling of gladness. I must have hit my head hard. I wonder if I’m allowed to get up from bed. Doubtful. I have no idea how long it’s been since I was out, I wear one of those hospital robe things. Maybe I should call someone. I lower the bar and prepare to get up. The door opens and a nurse walks in. Her expression makes it seem as if she’s seen a ghost. The next moment she runs out of the room. What just happened? A few seconds later the nurse and a doctor come hurrying in. “He really is up, Gretel.” The doctor says to the nurse astoundingly. “How are you feeling?” He asks as he pulls my eyes open and shines a torch in them. For the next several minutes the doctor and the nurse examine me as if admiring the latest sports car in the market. I comply hoping for an explanation which doesn’t come. “I’m going to schedule another MRI for you so we can be sure”, the doctor tells me, “I must say, it’s pretty remarkable. But that’s something I’ll discuss with you later.” I attempt to leave but get pushed back down pointedly by Gretel. “No getting up”, she says and departs. I nod along just as I did with the doctor. I remain in my position, partly due to feeling weak once more and partly for my reluctance to be scolded by Gretel again. I open my eyes feeling odd, the brightness in the room has changed, my head feels lighter now. I must have fallen asleep, it’s the afternoon. Loud voices come from outside the door. Whoever it is must want to see me badly. I’m sure I hear a woman’s voice. That must be mom, the hospital obviously contacted them. I should go out and tell them I’m fine, odds are she’s wrestling with Gretel right now. The voices stop all of a sudden as I prepare to get up. Gretel must have won. I wait for her to inform me of my family’s arrival but no one comes. Screw it! I’ll face Gretel’s ire later. I jump up from bed to feel a familiar pang on my hand. The drip, I’d forgotten about it. The drip stand’s wheels squeak as I move towards the door, unfortunately I hadn’t anticipated my legs to feel like stilts. I grip the stand for balance but my weight’s too much for it to keep me upright and I collapse. The door opens just then and I fall onto the entrant. She struggles to hold me as we both flop to the ground. I lie down staring above me just like I had during the accident and just like then I see a face appear before my eyes. “Oh, Nick! Are you alright?” Emily looks down at me with concern and I forget about any pain I might have felt a moment ago. “Hi”, I say hoarsely, the first time I’ve spoken since regaining consciousness. “Nick?” She asks me again as I realize it was Emily’s voice I had heard before. “Emily”, I say her name mesmerizingly, finding it difficult to believe it might be her, “I- I’m-“ It suddenly comes to my notice I’m in a hospital robe. “I’m not… I’m not… decent.” She comprehends what I mean and embarrassedly steps back. “Oh, sorry”, she says, I’m glad she’s given me my space but now that I’m on the ground, it won’t be possible to get up without some help. “Umm, could you help me, if you don’t mind?” “Right! Sorry”, she apologizes clumsily and helps me up. I sit back onto the bed and instinctively cover myself with the bed sheet. “Nick… I’m so sorry”, Emily apologizes again guiltily. “It’s okay, it was my fault, I came in your way, you just opened the door”, I give a casual wave. “No, Nick. I mean I’m sorry about what happened.” “I’m sorry too, you won’t believe the bad timing for this to happen”, I tell her, “Just when it seemed that it was all fine, wham! I get hit back to reality.” “Err… don’t you know who hit you?” “Oh yeah, I swear when I see that guy he’s going to have some bills to pay.” “Nick…” “By the way, how did you get here?” “The nurse wouldn’t let me come so I snuck in.” “How come you wanted to see me so badly?” I ask surprised. “I couldn’t leave without knowing you were alright.” “That’s nice of you”, I say feeling pleased, “That reminds me, I have to ask the nurse whether my family’s been informed.” “Don’t worry about that. They should be here soon.” “How do you know?” “I was the one who told the hospital to call them.” “Wow, sounds like you were pretty handy today. You wouldn’t happen to know who the culprit was, would you?” “I do. It was me.” She simply looks at me guiltily. Emily wasn’t the best when it came to cracking jokes. I give her a sarcastic smile as indication to end the joke but all she does is eye me nervously. “You’re joking, aren’t you?” I ask chuckling. “I’m not.” “I’ll believe you if you say it, ‘I hit you with my car.’” “I hit you with my car”, she tells me flatly, “I was the driver.” It takes me some time to process what I just heard. I lie back in my bed, turns out she wasn’t an angel after all. “So you really did hit me with your car?” “I’m really sorry”, she repeats. “Some pretty interesting turn of events, huh?” I ask her, I must be partly in shock. “It happened so quickly, I didn’t even realize it.” “I sort of felt the same way”, I say, still in my strange trance, “By the way, did you know I got tenure today?” “Really?” “Yeah, and a promotion and there was something else, I think I’m forgetting.” “Your birthday?” “Oh, so you remembered?” “I’ve never forgotten.” “Sort of ironic though, don’t you think? That you came pretty close to killing me on my birthday.” “I’m sorry, Nick”, she says again, sounding close to tears. “No, no, it’s fine”, I assure her quickly. “I just didn’t anticipate this. When I woke up today, I didn’t think I’d get a promotion, then get hit by car and meet an old friend who was incidentally the one driving the car. All of this on my birthday.” “Sort of a lot to take in, huh?” “Yeah”, I say absentmindedly, “And… a bit funny too, for some reason”, I say, unexpectedly starting to fell amused. “It’s not really a laughing matter.” “I don’t know why, it just seems pretty funny to me at the moment”, I laugh, “Emily, you and I have a very strange way of meeting each other every time.” “That’s true”.” “After the last time, I wasn’t sure how we’d top that.” “Yeah”, she agrees looking calmer now, “You might just say I was back in your life with a bang!” “Well, that’s just not funny”, I tell her seriously, “You did hit me with a car, you know.” “Oh, I’m sorry, Nick. I don’t what I was saying”, she apologizes quickly as I start laughing again. “Okay, now that was too easy”, I snicker. “You jerk, you had me worried.” She slaps my shoulder lightheartedly. “How about we keep a safe distance for a little while?” I suggest, rubbing my shoulder, I’m used to her hitting my arm playfully but it doesn’t feel like much fun at the moment. “So, you are okay, right? I’m more than willing to pay for anything. Hospital bills, recovery, whatever it is…” “Come on, Emily, you’re embarrassing me now.” “Are you sure? Because I’ve already listed my name with the police. So, if there’s any chance of pressing charges-“ “Whoa, pressing charges? You’re going way too overboard. You realize it’s me, right?” I ask her, she’s obviously over-thought this while I was passed out, “I’m never going to do that.” “But if your family wants to, I completely understand, it’s their right.” “No one’s pressing charges. It was an accident.” “This is serious, Nick. You were really hurt.” “Look, do you want me to sue you?” “Well…no, but-“ “Then it’s settled, let’s move on.” “I thought that you might have been… really hurt.” She murmurs. “I’m not. See? Just fine”, I assure her, she remains held in reserve which makes me notice her appearance. Hair mangled as if they’ve been pulled nervously, brow heavily furrowed in worry and most distinctively eyes wracked with concern with an unmistakable hue of red in them, “Wait a second, were you crying?” “You didn’t see yourself”, she says, her tone uneven, “I was really worried.” “Well, there you go, I can die peacefully knowing I’ve touched someone’s life”, I joke to lighten her mood. “Come on, Nick. Still joking?” “I’m just trying to let you know it’s not your fault. In fact, I’m pretty sure it was me because just before I got hit my stupid watch shone a light in my eye.” “It hit me in the eyes too, that’s what caused me to lose balance.” “Great, so I only have myself to blame”. “Let’s just not go there.” “Fine, but I just knew the day was too good to be true.” “Think of it this way. If all of that hadn’t happened, then we wouldn’t have met each other. So it all worked out.” “Yeah, although I would’ve liked to have met you without falling on you while wearing a revealing hospital robe.” We both laugh, Emily’s right though, it has worked out pretty well. “I thought I told you weren’t allowed in here!” Gretel’s voice erupts from the doorway. “First you hit this poor boy and now you’re bothering him?” “No, it’s fine. She’s-“ I attempt to explain but the nurse pushes my down in my bed. “Nick! I’ll be outside the whole time, I’m not leaving”, Emily calls to me before being thrown out by Gretel. “You lie back down! No getting up”, she scolds me, I’m too scared to argue and put my head on the pillow. It’s going to be difficult going to sleep but the thought of Emily waiting for me outside is soothing enough as I enjoy the familiar feeling of elation I get every time I see her. Their The restroom door creaks open as I step outside. I grit my teeth nervously and carefully shut the door, before making my towards Nick’s room. The events of the day shuffle through my head as I walk, the sun shining in my eye, hitting Nick with my car, watching him pass out with that odd smile on his face. Then there were the torturous hours sitting in the hospital waiting for any news of his condition. I can’t describe the joy I’d felt, knowing he was fine. But I had to see him. He still seems the same as ever to me, I’m glad, I don’t want him to change. Meeting his family’s etched into my memory. Nick hadn’t been exaggerating when he’d told me his brother was a big time lawyer. I barely held on to his words when he claimed he’d sue me penniless. But I don’t blame him, in fact it was admirable how much Michael loved his older brother, what made me feel really guilty was meeting his parents. Nick’s poor mother was too shaken to say much and his father was so nice he ended up consoling me. I quickly sneak into Nick’s ward room, and find him asleep, I rearrange his sheets, a clanging sound rings though the room. The sound came from the cell that dropped on the ground. He must have been holding it before falling asleep. I turn the screen on to see myself smiling back. It’s a picture of the two of us, on the plane, when I’d teased him for taking selfies. I look at the picture fondly. A surge of affection for him runs through me. I place his cell by the table next to him, the warmth still resonating in me. He looks so peaceful while sleeping, I raise my hand to stroke his hair but settle there’s no need to risk waking him up. I hold his hand in mine, even with all the tension of the day, it seems worth it sitting beside him now. “Emily? Emily. Are you awake?” “Just a second”, I mumble sleepily, “I’ll be up in a couple of minutes.” “I just wanted to warn you the nurse might come in any minute and she won’t be happy to see you sleeping here.” “Huh? What nurse?” I murmur, the image of an angry woman shouting materializes and I wake with a start, “The nurse! Hospital… right!” “You okay?” “Yeah, I guess I lost track and fell asleep”, I say rubbing my eyes, “What time is it?” “Around 6 in the morning. How long have you been here?” “I got in after 11, last I remember it was around 2 o clock.” “You spent the night here?” Nick asks in astonishment. “I told you before, I wasn’t leaving.” “Oh, then why did you stay?” He asks me eagerly. For a wild second I consider confessing everything I’ve felt all these years. “Because I wasn’t going to leave my friend alone after being responsible for putting him in the hospital”, I tell him, shaking off my impulse quickly. “Right”, he says seeming disappointed although it could simply be a reflection of my own that I see on him. “I only woke up a couple of minutes ago, felt someone holding my hand and woke up surprised. Turned out to be you, so was I shivering or something?” “What do you mean?” “That’s why you pulled the sheets up and held my hand, right? To keep me warm.” “Uh huh”, I confirm evasively. “Thanks”, he says although again I feel as if he may be a bit disappointed. “So, when do you plan on leaving?” “I could hide away until visiting hours and then pretend I just arrived.” “You don’t have to do that. I’m flattered you even stayed in the first place.” “Not exactly a big deal considering I was the one who hit you”, I dismiss his gratitude, “Besides, I can’t leave now. It’s still before visiting hours.” “Looks like you’re stuck with me for a little while.” “I’m glad to be”, I tell him truthfully, “I wouldn’t have been able to get a minute’s sleep if I’d gone home.” “Plus I’m pretty sure Mikey was probably waiting outside.” “You’re kidding.” “No, he maybe a successful lawyer but he’s not above resorting to, let’s just say, unconventional means.” “He doesn’t look the part, to tell you the truth.” “Yeah, no matter how many he intimidates in court he still can’t throw a ball and still gets walloped by me every time we wrestle. What day is it, again?” “It’s Saturday.” “Don’t you have to be at work?” He asks surprised. “I don’t have work.” “Oh, so that means you have two days off.” “Actually, no, I don’t have to go at all.” “How come? Did you get so efficient that you finished up next week’s work already? I’m not kidding, you’re capable of doing that.” “As flattering as that is, I don’t have to go to work because I quit.” “You quit?” He asks bewildered, “But you had that amazing job with the more than generous salary. What happened?” “I wasn’t happy”, I tell him plainly. “Did a case of paint fall on you again?” I ask her. “No, silly”, she giggles, “You still remember that?” “I’ll never forget about it”, I joke, “But seriously, Emily, what happened?” “I am being serious, I really was unhappy”, she says earnestly, “I don’t blame you for being skeptical though, no one at the office could believe that was my reason.” “You actually gave the unhappy thing as the reason for your resignation? Is that even a real thing?” “Well, that’s how I resigned.” “Wow, so I’m talking to an Emily who’s unemployed. I would’ve thought you would have some sort of an Identity crisis to do that.” “To be honest, I did. I immediately regretted resigning, I even had one of those dramatic ‘Woe is me’ moments”, she says imitating a melodramatic acting scene and making me laugh. “You’ll make a great actress if you wanted to.” “Thank you”, she courtesy’s, “But forget about me. You got promoted! That’s the real news.” “Not only did I get promoted, I also get tenure which means I have full job security”, I boast good-humoredly. “It truly is an honor to be in your presence”, Emily says with sarcasm. “I’m sure it must be”, I carry on the joke. “I’m really proud of you, Nick”, she says warmly, “To get this far, especially from where you were at one point. It takes something special to turn a life around this way.” “Thank you, I’d be lying if I said it was easy, I’m sure glad it paid off and, honestly, I also sort of think it was worth it going through all those struggles because they made me see the other side of things and now that I’m happier, I appreciate it more”, I confess to her, more out of letting it out than anything else, “You must think I’m babbling here.” “No, I don’t”, she assures me, “I admire the way you’ve handled it all, the Nick I met all those years ago might not have been able to but you have.” “I feel as if there were two of me. The one that existed before the night at the beach and the one that exists now.” “I understand, I sometimes think of myself that way as well.” “If you ask me, I’m glad you turned into a straight shooter from the impulsive girl you were once. I’m not poking fun at you, just so you know. It’s because of you that I’m here.” “You’ve already thanked me for the time at the beach a bunch of times. Whatever you’ve achieved now is all because of you.” “I wasn’t talking about the beach”, I clarify, now’s my chance to thank her, maybe this accident was a way for me to do so, “Remember at the park, I told you I didn’t have to go to the office? I said that because I knew you’d make me go. After I left your apartment I went back home. I thought I’d do a quick overview of everything I had on my USB. You would not believe what I found out.” “What was it?” “My idiot assistant gave me his personal USB instead and it had, well, censored stuff.” “Oh gross”, Emily grimaces getting what I meant. “You have no idea how glad I was that I checked it out before taking it to the office.” “My God, imagine if you’d gone that day”, she says holding her hands to her mouth, “I don’t even want to think about it.” “Think this, I was going to schedule a meeting in the conference room where I was going to set the USB on a projector.” “That would have been bad”, Emily breaks down laughing. “I don’t know, maybe the directors would have liked it”, I laugh as well, “I mean, who among us hasn’t indulged just a little bit.” “Stop it, Nick”, she nudges me. “I quickly called up my assistant who emailed me the relevant materials but even those weren’t right. Apparently, in my haste, I’d made a couple of very risky mistakes so for the rest of the night I was up rectifying them. The next day it was all sorted out. So, thank you, if it hadn’t been for that walk in the park I might’ve been fired for being a pervert.” “You’re most welcome. Although I can’t be sure what you actually did with your assistant’s USB.” “Hey!” “Come on, you can’t be the only sarcastic one all the time.” “I’m going to let that one slide because you stayed by me all night”, I tell her in a mockingly threatening voice. “I can’t believe you, Nick, to be perfectly honest. A full day ago you were hit by a car and now you’re so casual about it.” “I feel fine. I’m just glad I’m walking again.” “Were you able to fine?” “My right leg sort of feels funny so I was walking with a limp but I think it’ll be fine eventually.” “I guess the doctor’s going to tell you everything today. Which should be soon”, she says looking at her watch, “Visiting hours open as well.” “Then you can leave.” “I’m still not going to”, she says flatly. “There’s not much to do here.” “I’ll manage, unless you want me to leave.” “No”, I say quickly, hopefully not too quickly as she has a surprised smile. “Then there you have it”, she says sitting back in her chair. “I hope the doctor doesn’t give me any bad news”, I voice my concern. “I’ve heard the guy who seems fine ends up having internal bleeding.” “You don’t have internal bleeding because that’s what we were all worried about yesterday. The doctor was concerned which is why you had that MRI scan but it was fine.” “What did you guys expect was going to happen?” “We were afraid of you slipping into a coma because you hadn’t woken up but then you did.” “Well, here’s hoping”, I lie down a little more comfortably. “Don’t worry, Nick”, Emily says softly, “Soon you’ll be out of here and back to your usual charming self. Yes I said it myself this time, Charming.” I manage a smile of appreciation as Gretel enters the room. “Visiting hours-“ Gretel begins when Emily cuts her off. “Are open”, she points to her watch. Gretel checks her own before scornfully accepting Emily’s claim. “Still, it is time for me to examine the patient so you must leave for the moment.” “I’ll be right out.” I’ve already made up my mind to stay. After all, Nick is my friend. A friend who had a birthday yesterday, I remember, and I didn’t even get him anything. It’s still pretty early out to go shopping for gifts and I don’t know how long Gretel’s going to be with him. A signboard catches my eye when I begin to turn back. Photo Shop. An idea springs up in my head. That’ll make a great gift for him. I whip out my phone quickly and enter the shop. Gretel may have meant well but I don’t see the relevance of checking every part of my body, even the places not connected to the accident. I shake the feeling off as the doctor enters the room. “Your full results came in.” “And?” I ask nervously, I sure hoped Emily would have been next to me for this. “And nothing. I must say it’s a very exceptional case, you’re completely alright. The only thing that might remain is a slight limp in your right leg.” “But I will be able to walk, right?” “Of course, even running shouldn’t be much of a problem but if you get a little excited or nervous the limp might act up so remember to keep calm.” “Thanks, I will”. I say, my lungs feeling full of air. “So, congratulations to you, I’d like to keep you here for some time more for extra observation but that’s up to you. But for all intents and purposes, you’re fine”. “You’re fine!” An excited voice comes from the doorway making the doctor jump, it’s Emily. “I can leave today if I want to.” “That’s great”, she says excitedly, “Thank you, doctor.” “It’s no problem”, replies the doctor shakily, “If you’ll excuse me for a moment.” “See? I told you it was going to be fine”, Emily turns back to me happily. “Yes, like always, you were right”, I smile, “He even told me my case was exceptional. Maybe you’re too soft on your accident victims.” “Thank goodness I am. What else did he say? Any problems later on?” “Just the possibility of a slight limp if I get nervous.” “You know I’ve heard of those, the best way to counter them is to make a habit of going jogging every day.” “Well I do that already.” “Really?” “Yeah, since the day we went for that walk in Central Park, I started enjoying going jogging or walking there. I think maybe I should just leave now.” “Why?” “Because the nurse violated me.” “Didn’t you always want to be a ladies’ man?” Emily giggles. “You could visit my sister’s clinic.” “Your sister’s?” I ask curiously, remembering something, “Didn’t she give up being a doctor when she married?” As I ask Emily, a sadness takes over her features. “She returned to her studies after her husband died.” “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that”, I say sincerely, “When did it happen?” “It was some time ago. She went back and finished her studies and became a doctor, opened a clinic and doing pretty well now, actually.” “And how did your niece take it?” I ask and notice her face become graver. “She didn’t really handle it well. She was still young to fully understand it. At first she began acting out, stopped being friendly, locked herself away, it even affected her at school.” “So how is she now?” “Not the same as she used to be, her doctor said it’s because she’s growing up so it might take some more time.” “That’s too bad.” “But come on, why are we talking about sad things”, Emily recovers, “You’re alright! We should celebrate.” “And how do you propose we do that?” “Here, I knocked you out on your birthday so this is me trying to make up for it”, she hands me a wrapped box. “A birthday gift? Well, let’s see what it is.” I unwrap the present, it’s a picture. Of me and Emily, the same one I’d been looking at last night. My face breaks in a wide smile next to Emily’s amused reaction, it really takes me back to that moment on the plane. I suppose I hadn’t fully understood the closeness I felt to her then, I do now. Emily eyes me closely as if waiting to see my response. “It’s great”, I tell her. “Did you read the frame?” She asks. I look at the picture again and notice the writing on the frame. Dear Nick, One selfie isn’t enough, May we have many more of these wonderful moments. Get Well Soon and Happy Birthday. Love, Emily Written around the edges of the frame and by hand. I sigh in affection. She returns my smile, the same one that I have. “I thought a more personal touch was required”, she says showing me the pen she wrote it with. “You thought right”, I say hoarsely feeling somewhat overwhelmed, “I love it.” “I’m glad. It’s the least I could do after yesterday”. “How’d you get the picture though?” I ask her, heart beating slightly faster, she must have seen me holding the phone while I slept but I want to know what she thought when she saw it, “I had it on my phone.” “Well, I hope you don’t see it as an intrusion but I saw the picture. You obviously fell asleep without realizing it. So I sent it to my phone and got the frame done.” “I see.” “Were you shuffling through your pictures last night? You must have been really bored to have been looking at such an old picture.” “Yeah”, I say untruthfully feeling disappointed at her take, “Bored.” There’s that look again, is it really just me? Something about him makes me almost convinced that he’s disappointed. “That day was something else though, huh?” He asks brightly all of a sudden, I forget my fixation of his supposed disappointment as the memories from the day pour in. “It was”, I reply fondly. “Remember when your niece thought I was a kidnapper and your brother was ready to knock me out?” I nod, my thoughts, however, rest towards the events at the end of the day. “It really was a good day”, he says reflecting back. “How come…?” I hesitate asking him the burning question. “Seeing your apartment convinced me to switch mine, you made me interested in all the architecture stuff. Are you still at your old place? I wouldn’t mind checking it out again and make some adjustments to mine.” “Sure, but Nick… How come…?” I pause, pondering over asking him over fear that he might just vanish once more if I do. But I have to know, “Why didn’t you respond to my calls?” Nick doesn’t reply right away. It’s extremely difficult to figure out what’s going on in his head. Over the years it seems that I’ve gotten less aware of what he thinks. “It’s just that… I called you so many times”, I speak again to fill the gaps, my curiosity not letting me keep quiet, the gloom almost discernable in my voice. “About that…” he says, his face seemingly deep in thought but not giving away anything else. “Yeah? I was worried for you, I thought something had happened.” “The thing was, Emily, that my phone, if you’ll believe it, got a virus”, he says confidently, “From the USB I told you about. All the numbers in my phone became scrambled and I couldn’t tell them apart.” “You could’ve picked up and I would’ve told you it was me.” “Uh, I was afraid that it would’ve ruined the phone more.” “But you could’ve come by my apartment again”, I say wanting to eliminate all alternatives he could’ve taken. “I suck at directions. Honestly, I wasn’t able to find my own apartment when I was new here. I forgot where yours was.” I look deeply at Nick. He looks back determinately, in spite of the feeling I get that he’s not being completely honest with me I can’t help but believe him. It’s because I want to, I know that inside, so the best thing for me to do here is accept his answers. “Alright. I just always wondered why you didn’t contact me again”. “Believe me, I wanted to”. This time I tell her the truth. I honestly did want to stay in touch with her, but what else am I supposed to say? That, all of a sudden I felt something else for her that day, and that for a split second, I felt as if she and I were both thinking the same thing. She told me clearly she didn’t feel any of that. It hits me almost as hard as the car did. Guy. I completely forgot about him. It’s been two years now. Last I knew they were engaged, they must be married by now. “You look a little down.” Emily asks concerned. “I guess I’m not a hundred percent yet.” “You should stay here another night, just in case. I don’t have anywhere to be.” “Aren’t you looking for another job?” “I don’t know”, she says, “I’ve decided to only go for something that I’m sure I’ll enjoy.” As I look at her deep in thought, the memory of a coworker pops into my head. “Hey! How about applying at my company?” “What?” she asks taken aback. “I share the floor with the architectural department and one of the guys there asked me if I knew someone.” “You’re not kidding, are you?” “I’m totally serious”, I tell her excitedly, “Why don’t you come by the office and I’ll introduce you to him personally.” “I’m not sure about this”, Emily says uncertainly. “What’s the harm in giving it a try? “Hmmm”, she ponders over it, I wait anxiously for her answer. “Okay then, I’ll meet him.” “Awesome”, I say happily, “Then it’s settled, you’ll be working with me.” “It’s just an interview.” “Madam, I have tenure and I’m one of the senior members, if I say you have a job then you have one.” “But I’m not taking the job like that. If I’m coming I want a fair shot like the others.” “Well, alright. But please remember to come on by.” “I promise I will.” The possibility of working with Emily sounds wonderful. I’ve already made up my mind. I tried cutting her out of my life and it didn’t work, I tried forgetting about her and couldn’t. Emily is first and foremost my friend and if that’s how she’ll remain in my life then I’m happy with it. “I’ll have to prepare for the interview now”, she says to her herself. “I have only about 46 hours.” “Then go on home.” “But I don’t want to leave you here by yourself.” “My family’s going to be here any second. Besides, don’t you have to run this news by someone…Guy?” “Guy? I’m not with him anymore.” The effect of those words on me is astounding, the equivalent of getting kicked so hard in the face that I was sent straight up into the clouds. It sounds too good to be true, I must have misheard her. “Umm, could you repeat that?” Nick asks. “I’m not with Guy anymore.” “And when did that happen?” asks Nick after a pause. “Two years ago.” “TWO YEARS?!” He shouts, “I’m sorry… when exactly?” “The day you and I met.” “But he was there when I left.” “And that’s when I broke up with him.” “Why?” “Because of you”, I say, Nick stares at me with his mouth open, devoid of words, “I mean, because you made me understand I wasn’t supposed to be with him. After I confronted all those pent up feelings about my father and John, I realized that I didn’t love him, I think I’d known that for a while, but I truly comprehended that I was being selfish. I wasn’t doing any justice to him. I was too scared to voice those feelings out. You helped me realize all this in a day when I couldn’t with him in five years. It wasn’t fair to him and that’s why I let him go.” “Wow, that’s unbelievable.” “You might say”, I reply with a small smile, “I couldn’t believe that I grasped all that after so long but so quickly but it was the truth. I told him everything as soon as you left.” “And how did he take it?” “He told me a part of him always thought I felt that way. He moved out and here I am.” “So when you called me…” “That’s why I did, I had my mind set on ending it with him before you left, I wanted to tell you about it all but you got that virus.” “That virus, right. So, is there anyone else now?” “I’ve been by myself for two years.” “You haven’t gone out with anyone in that time?” “No one.” “Oh, so you’re back to the old Emily now.” “If you want to call it that”, I say amusedly, “The Emily you met on the plane, and in Muscat, the club and the library but not the one you met at the beach or two years ago.” “Right”, he says, definitely seeming disappointed now. “What is it?” “It’s just that, aren’t you tired of labeling our meetings? You know, the way we refer to them by location. I know I am. I don’t want to refer to this as ‘the time we met at the hospital’.” Nick says determinedly, “So I can only request to you, please try to make it to the interview”. “I will”, I assure him, it sounds much like my previous job but after what Nick said I can’t hide it anymore either. It truly is tiring how we keep getting separated. He always will be my friend and after all these years I don’t want to let him go again from my life. I want him there and if taking this job is how I can keep him around then that’s what I’ll do. “Mr. Parsons, your family’s here”, the doctor announces from the door. “I think it’ll be best if you get some rest for now”, I tell Emily, not wanting to be in the middle of Mikey’s accusations against her. “I understand”, she replies with a smile, “I’ll be back later. I have your number and your address, try running away from me now, Nick Parsons.” “I wouldn’t. You can be sure of that.” She gives my hand a small squeeze and bids goodbye. This makes me slightly nervous, with us, you never know when it might be the last time we meet. “Emily”, I call out, she turns back. “I will be seeing you again, right?” She smiles her beautiful smile and gives me the thumbs up but I need one last reassurance from her. “So… I guess I’ll see you Monday?” His “Wow, that was a long time ago”, Mikey marvels, “So you’ve liked her since then?” “I didn’t at first, she was all bossy and uptight and kept telling me what to do.” “Not really seeing where the liking part came from.” “But then she turned out to be right and she helped me a lot back when I was depressed, remember that time. She was the one who got me out of it.” “Oh, so that’s how you changed all of a sudden. I figured it was because of the job I got you.” “You’re not crying about it, are you?” “Will you get to the point or do I hang up?” “Alright, alright, we’ll see how patient I am when you have a girl to talk about”, I slander, “Anyway, she kept coming in and out of my life so many times but then I saw her a couple of years ago and I don’t know why, I looked at her differently.” “Huh, I’ve never heard you smitten before.” “I’m not- The point is that she’s back in my life and I don’t know what to do.” “What I’d be doing is suing her”, I sigh, looks like Lawyer Michael’s taken the phone from Brother Mikey, “She blatantly rammed you with her vehicle. Who knows? Maybe her intention was to flee the scene of the crime. This woman’s been galvanizing with your emotions all these years, maybe she saw you as a connection with her own failures and deliberately attempted to run you over.” “That’s not a motive.” “Of course it is. She told me she was unemployed, and single as well. Her life doesn’t sound very appealing to me, meanwhile you’re successful in your field and with a new woman every week.” “I’m not with a new woman every week, Mikey. As far as the unemployed thing is, that’s been taken care of. I set her up at my office.” “That’s even more convenient, I bet she loved getting a new job without having to put any effort into getting it.” “Au contraire, little brother, she refused to let me give her the job. Jim, the guy in charge of the architecture department’s been taking us out to dinner for almost a month. The entire office loves her work, there’s no one more efficient than her and she’s only been there for three weeks. So, just drop this vendetta you have.” “Fine”, Mikey concedes. “You were saying…” “Yeah, the thing is, I love that she’s in my life now. But I have a problem. I can’t help but, argh, want to…” “You mean, ask her out? Then do it.” “It’s not that simple. There are certain rules for this sort of thing, you know. We just met after a couple of years, if I ask her out it’ll be like I just wanted her around to date her.’ “Isn’t that the truth?” “No. She’s my friend and I want to keep our friendship but that’s the reason. I want her as a friend and…” “Wait a little longer, once you guys are settled with each other, ask her out. Who knows? Maybe she’s liked you all this time as well.” “There’s another problem though, she told me once that she saw me only as a friend, nothing more.” “She actually said those words? That does complicate things a bit. How about the next time you hug, make sure to check whether she holds on longer.” “Next time I hug her?” I ask awkwardly, Mikey really has some strange suggestions. “You’ve never hugged her? Didn’t you ever share any good news that required an embrace?” “I suppose but we never did, at most we’ve held hands but only when consoling one another.” “Okay… then I don’t know. I guess you’re stuck like that.” “That’s your big advice?” “Well, what did you expect from me? I’m not exactly known to be a ladies’ man, have you ever seen me with one?” He asks defensively. “Fine, take it easy”. I calm him down, my phone vibrates, I check the screen to see a message pop up, from Emily. “It’s her! Okay, talk to you later.” “You should be the one taking it easy, man. I can picture you jumping in excitement. See ya.” I hang up to find a few more messages from Emily. Hey 12.59 AM Asleep? 12.59 AM Looks like I’m used to texting you before bed. Kind of like reading a bedtime story. 12.59AM I quickly reply. Asleep? Me? 1 o clock is when I wake up :P 1.00 AM I’ve chatted with you enough times to know that’s true 1.00 AM What’re you up to? 1.00 AM Same old same old. Which is nothing 1.00 AM Poor you 1.00 AM Am I not? 1.00 AM Don’t worry, you’ve got me to keep you company now 1.00 AM Yeah an awsum improvement 1.00 AM Maybe I should talk to someone else 1.01 AM That threat may hav worked a couple weeks ago 1.01 AM How about I make you go to dinner with Jim alone from now on 1.01 AM I apologize from the bottom of my heart 1.01 AM ur the only reason I survive those dinners with him 1.01 AM Hahaha1.01 AM We need to find a way to get out of those dinners 1.01 AM Hes been taking us out because of ur way too good 1.01 AM Thanks. Just getting my work done, that’s all 1.02 AM U are happy here right? 1.02 AM I know this wasntur ideal choice 1.02 AM No, I love it here 1.02 AM We should get some sleep 1.02 AM We’ve been chatting till 4 every night 1.02 AM That’s true. Emily and I have been talking late since she joined the office. It’s not only night though, we text in between work as well and during Jim’s repetitive whining about how he should be the CEO. Then there’s all the time we talk with each other, during breaks, after work. I didn’t think I had so much to say but it’s non-stop when I’m with Emily. And I’m sure she knows just as well as I do that neither one of us is going to sleep. Maybe we should watch a movie that makes us fall asleep 1.03 AM Letsthink of them together 1.03 AM “An office Valentine’s day party, I’ve never heard of anything more ridiculous in a workplace”, says Emily. “Less ridiculous than the fact that it’s not even on Valentine’s Day?” I ask amused. “Remind me why we’re doing this?” “Because Della got married to Roger and they both work here”. “That still doesn’t explain why it’s a Valentine’s Day celebration.” “Fair point but it’s the annual office Valentine’s day party.” “It happens every year?” Emily asks surprised. “It’s not really a bad thing if everyone enjoys it. But I don’t see the point of forcing us to decorate the office. Take these strings and tape them up to the ceiling.” “I’ll have to climb on the ladder.” I object. “If you don’t want to then you can write Della’s vows for her.” “No, thank you. I’ll stick with the sticking”, I say picking up the strings, “Why are you writing her vows?” “She liked my suggestions so much that I was left in charge of writing it all. She looked close to tears when I told her I wasn’t sure about it at first. So I agreed.” “Man, I think they’re trying to go all out this year.” I remark ducking under the huge cardboard cutout of a heart. Last year, I had to complete everyone’s leftover work, the preparations had always been done without my involvement. This year, Emily’s dragged me into these arrangements. “I have to admit, though. These guys did a great job making this thing.” “I told you you’d have fun coming here.” “I didn’t say I’m having fun”, I say, when Emily gives me an inquisitive look I complete the sentence, “But I guess it’s not that bad, a lot of red, though. Although, I do like a good theme.” “You do?” “Yeah, parties are fun when there’s a good theme.” “I guess you have a point”, says Emily as she tapes up the last of the strings, “There, all done.” “Good work”, I raise my hand, she gives me a high five, “Now can I go?” “You could pick out the style of the cards to print out.” “Are you sure you want to trust me with it?” “It’s fine, the roses are going to be the main focus as it is”, she says. The cards are supposed to be printed and each one of them will have a rose in them. “Okay, if you want me to stay so bad”, I say teasingly, in actuality I have nothing to do, usually I would have left with Emily, but seeing as she’s here I might as well be too. “I’ll go with writing about the color red”, Emily says holding a pen and a pad in her hand while looking around the office thoughtfully. “I’ll associate it with their relationship somehow.” “You do that. Meanwhile, how about this one?” I ask pointing out a card mockup I’ve chosen. “That’s pretty good.” “Well, at my wedding I was the one who picked out the invitation designs.” “You picked them out? I thought your ex-wife had all the say in wedding preparations.” “When picking the stuff to prepare, but I was the one who set them up, it wasn’t called wedding of the year for nothing.” “Wow, people called it that?” “I did at least”, we both laugh. “My next wedding’s going to be even better. I’ve got it all set out in my head.” “I’d love to hear about it.’ “I’ll keep you updated. What about you? From the looks of things I’d say you like this sort of stuff too.” “About half and half, I’d say. Like right now, I’m actually enjoying this.” “And when you get married, which half would you fall on?” “Please, me getting married”, she scoffs instantly making me picture the nineteen year old Emily I’d met on the plane with the exact same reaction. “Once upon a time I wouldn’t even have questioned you on that but after being engaged for, what, two years I would’ve thought you’d react differently.” “Well I was engaged for two years.” “But you did prepare for the wedding, right?” I ask, she gives a non-committal shrug. “We never got around to that.” “This is where the whole ‘You didn’t love him’ part comes in, I’m assuming.” “Correct, but you should see the invitations for his wedding, now. They’re beautiful.” “He’s getting married again?” I ask astonished. “How do you know about it?” “He invited me.” “And you’re planning on going?” “It would be rude if I didn’t”, she says in a matter of fact manner, I sigh sympathetically. Poor girl doesn’t realize what’s going on. “My dear, Emily”, I say consolably. “You don’t realize why he’s calling you?” “Because he wants me to be happy for him?” “Right, because that’s what all dumped guys do. They get turned down by one girl who tells them she never loved them. Then get engaged to another girl and invite the first one to the wedding”, I say sarcastically, “Do you not see where I’m going with this?” “I have an inkling”, she mutters sarcastically as well, “But have you considered that some might simply be too mature for these kinds of pathetic games?” I think on her words for a second. “No guys are like that. In fact, it’s not just guys, Emily. You know how many weddings I’ve been invited to in the past four years? Two, both of them my ex-wife’s.” “You’re making it up.” “Oh no, I’m not.” “But why would she invite you?” “Because that’s what exes do”, I tell her simply, “They don’t want you thinking they haven’t moved on, they want you to know without doubt that they absolutely have moved on.” “They could simply call you up and tell you.” “Let me clarify. The invitation isn’t actually an invite, it’s… more of a slap on the face in writing, or in my case calligraphy”, I explain to her, “When Leah got married again to Mark, I was among the first ones to know about it.” “But they got divorced?” “After a nasty divorce the first time, they got married again. They didn’t forget me though and sent me another invite.” “Sounds like she really wanted you to be jealous. And you think that’s what Guy’s doing as well?” “Emily, just think about it. He kept on trying to get you to date him and when he was successful, you dumped him. Then you got engaged but broke it off by saying you never loved him. Now, out of the blue, he’s inviting you to his next wedding, purely out of the goodness of his heart?” “When you explain it like that…” Emily considers my words. “So what if I still go to wedding?” “The invite pretty much means ‘Don’t even think about coming to my wedding, just sit at home and cry about it’. But if you’re still thinking of going then think about something you’re overlooking. The bride. You think she’ll want her husband’s ex-fiancé there?” “I hadn’t even thought of that”, Emily says distantly. “Then it’s a good thing you have a friend to show you the ropes with this sort of thing.” “So, people do this all the time?” “Pretty much.” “That’s pathetic.” “True.” I agree with her. “That’s… sad!” “Also true.” “And here I was thinking he was being nice”. Emily says heatedly, putting down her pencil and pad, “I’m really not in the mood for this now.” She gets up and starts to leave. I didn’t see that coming, it wasn’t my intention to ruin her mood. I quickly follow her. “Wait wait, Emily. Where are you going?” “I just don’t feel like being here with all this hearts-y and lovey dovey stuff.” “Come on, you’re taking this too seriously.” “Am I?” She asks dejectedly, “I thought that people were mature at our age. You’ve been right all these years. Maybe I am just a robot who’s not programmed this way.” “I was kidding. It’s mainly a theory, for a guy who wants to make his ex jealous, he sends a picture of him and the new girl in a cute couple pose as well.” Emily switches her phone on and shows me a picture, Guy with an attractive girl with their arms around each other. “Okay, that guy wants to make you jealous”, I concede, Emily begins moving away again, I stop her. “Hey, why do you care anyway?” I ask with a laugh. “Because I was actually happy for him and, I don’t know, maybe a small part of me thought that I had a chance as well but… hearing you”, she says, looking at me with surprising intensity as if having some expectations from me on this matter. “It’s just that… I know now that I’m not the relationship type. That’s the way I’m going to stay.” “No no, you don’t want that”, I say quickly. “What difference does it make? It’s not like there’s anyone waiting around to date me, anyway.” “Uh”, I linger, now’s definitely not a good time. So much for Mikey’s suggestion. “Right.” “See? Even you agree”, she says triumphantly “I’m just not sold on your ‘Her’ concept, I don’t have a ‘Him’. Maybe there are some people meant to be by themselves.” “Delivery for roses?” Asks a guy who came up the elevator. “There won’t be any roses for me anytime soon”, says Emily disgruntled. She leaves me holding the enormous bouquets. I carry it back to the table. Poor Emily, her already sullen outlook on relationships must have taken a big hit, and I’m the idiot who caused it. An idiot who’d like to ask her out, no less. I feel bad about it, although I’m convinced Guy only invited her to flaunt his relationship, she still didn’t need to hear it. The invitations print out looking good. With a rose in each of them, they’ll look even better. Something handwritten would be much more personal. Ideas like these are that make me believe in a ‘Her’ out there for me all these years. I wish Emily would see that, she deserves to feel the need for companionship in her life. Her I return from downstairs feeling better. I’m sorry Nick had to see me being upset. The floor looks radiant with the color red, the concept of love clearly holds a lot of merit A concept clearly lost in me. Nick probably went home. Too bad, I was enjoying decorating with him. It’s nice to see someone still looking for his ‘Her’, especially after receiving two invitations to his ex-wife’s wedding. I guess he’s one of those unique people. Being alone is something I’m good at. A rose sticks out of my desk drawer, I pull on it, out comes an invitation. Curious, I open it to find a note written. We all need someone to bring that scent of affection in our lives. Hopefully this keeps you going till you find yours. The rose is taped into the invitation which opens like a book. It really is the best pick for the party. I stand up from my seat to search for the person who left this at my table but find no one around. I know who it was, though. It’s too bad he didn’t stay around to see the smile forming on my face as I read his words again. I never gave roses much thought before but as the beautiful fragrance fills itself in my office room, I realize just how gorgeous they are. Especially when you’ve been touched to the heart like I have. All of a sudden, unexpectedly, I find myself imagining what my wedding would be like… Nick Parsons So what would you classify the day as? 2.22 AM Families were there 2.22 AM An odd day I must say 2.22 AM After what happened at the end 2.22 AM What must your parents think of me 2.22 AM I was referring to the part where Mikey tackled me 2.22 AM Well Michael had good technique 2.22 AM 28 years of losing and suddenly he has good technique? 2.22 AM I may not be as brainy as the two of u but I know foul play 2.22 AM Assumptions… Thats all youre basing your conclusion upon 2.23 AM He told me you helped him 2.23 AM He told you?!! 2.23 AM I made him promise not to tell!! 2.23 AM Well ull be glad to know that he did keep ur promise 2.23 AM You set me up! 2.23 AM Hey I am the brother of a lawyer. Ive learnt a thing or two ;) 2.24 AM I was only trying to make him like me 2.24 AM Like you wanted me to 2.24 AM He loves u now! 2.24 AM Im glad he does. I like him too 2.24 AM Thats a relief but u still turned on me 2.24 AM you won 2.24 AM I guess I should let the guy have his moment 2.25 AM Thats very honorable of u 2.25 AM Dont think I didnt notice the sarcasm 2.25 AM U did? 2.25 AM I may be rubbing of on u more than u realize 2.25 AM with the sarcasm and lapse in punctuation 2.25 AM Im afraid you are 2.25 AM thank you for a fun day with your family 2.25 AM And sorry about the behavior of mine 2.25 AM Shes just a kid 2.25 AM But she should know how to speak to her elders 2.25 AM Please say sorry to your mom from me 2.26 AM I thought going out for picnic would help 2.26 AM Just give it a bit more time 2.26 AM its been about 2 years since her father passed away 2.26 AM Lets talk about something else 2.26 AM How about which movie we’ll be watching tomorrow? 2.26 AM Oh I forgot 2.26 AM Emily Smiths gonna be watching a rom-com 2.26 AM Do I really have to? 2.26 AM Hey it was ur idea to begin with 2.26 AM Well yeah 2.26 AM But We could go watch those fighting movies you love so much 2.26 AM Seems like a better option than a romantic film 2.26 AM Still there? 2.27 AM Mikey calling to talk about how much he loves u 2.27 AM Ill message back in a little while 2.27 AM Looks like you’ve backed yourself in a corner, Emily. It was the affectionate mood from the rose invitation still in spinning in my head when I had asked Nick to go for a romantic film. The genre completely fails upon me, they’re so insipid with a weak formula that everyone strangely loves so much. Nick, of course, likes these sorts of films. But after reading his well-meaning words, even I’ve found myself pondering over the whole idea. It’s crazy yet my mind remains up in the clouds for the most part nowadays. Meanwhile, everyone keeps asking me what my relationship with Nick is. They never seem to believe me when I tell them we’re just friends. Maybe it’s not a case of just dating anyone, it’s dating ‘Him’. My spirits did rise when Nick told me there was someone for me, I find it difficult to shake off the feeling that it might be him. But he’s been content with keeping a friendly space between us. I’m happy with it though, being his friend. It beats not seeing him for years at a time. The tougher aspect of this is containing these thoughts to myself especially when I see the handwritten invitation on my table, after so many weeks I still smile after looking at it. The phone pings. Sorry but Mikey wouldnt shut up 2.37 AM U there? 2.37 AM I consider not replying to him. Maybe if I restricted our contact with each other occasionally, I could have better luck with having these thoughts about him. So where were we? 2.38 AM That’s right, Rom-com 2.38 AM Oh well, better luck next time, Emily. “So, how was it?” Nick asks excitedly. “It was… really good, actually.” “Really?” “Yeah”, I confirm, slightly in disbelief at my own opinion. “Man, this is hard to believe. So, are we adding this genre to our list of options?” “Sure.” “Great, because I have some others you could watch. You’ve got Mail actually reminds me of the time when we used to chat anonymously.” “How come you didn’t ask before?” “Well, you never wanted to watch them. I knew how much you hated romance.” “I don’t know if I’d say I hate it”, I tell him as we leave the cinema. 1 o clock in the night yet the place is buzzing as if it might be midday. All couples, with the exception of me and Nick. “When have you ever shown any interest in it?” Nick asks skeptically. “I don’t flaunt it but I do have some tendencies. Like…” I pause, drawing a blank. “There was the time… or… um…” “Having a hard time?” “Fine, I don’t have any examples”, I concede although unsurprised at my defeat. “I’d ask you but by what Michael told me, you were successful in your boyhood dream of becoming a playboy.” “What?” He asks astonished, almost dropping the popcorn he’s holding. “Yeah. Although I haven’t seen anything playboy-ish from you.” “He was just exaggerating, I had only gone on a few dates that’s all.” “If you say so”, I let him off, he looks uncomfortable. I can’t say I was affected by this knowledge. It was expected of him to see other girls, after all. In any case, he and I’ve never dated each other. “But I’ll be disappointed to learn if you haven’t picked up something along the way.” “Like what?” “How to woo a woman.” “Alright. How may I demonstrate my wooing skills to you? All the women here are taken.” “I am a woman, you know?” “You?” “Yeah, how about it?” “Are you sure? I’ll warn you, if I turn it on, you won’t be able to resist.” “I’ll try to control myself”, I say amusedly. “Okay then”, he says but continues walking along as I wait for him to begin. “I thought you were going to show me your wooing skills.” “It’s a process, so, come on.” “Okay then.” Here and there laughing couples jump into their cars while Nick and I walk. The street has a kind of bewitching look. Lights flickering about, the road glistens from the recent drizzles giving the place a dreamy glow. The alluring scent of the environment after a light shower, the air couldn’t be more refreshing. Makes me want to get my notepad and write a story about it. The one drawback would be the chilliness. A few cabs halt near us, Nick motions them to move on. “Don’t you want to get a cab?” I ask. “What’s the fun sitting in a soaking taxi, aren’t you enjoying the weather?” “It’s really cold.” “Oh, where are my manners”, Nick apologizes hastily before taking off his coat. “No, then you’ll be cold.” “I’m never cold, I still sleep with the AC turned on.” He puts the coat around my shoulders, “There, is it better?” “Yeah, thanks.” “Nothing beats a good walk, especially in after a rain”, says Nick enjoyably spreading his arms around. “You look sort of cute, snuggled up in that coat.” “If you say so,” I say feeling slightly conscious of myself. “You’ll feel better if we go someplace warmer. How about standing above this steam grate?” “Hoping for a Marilyn Monroe moment?” I joke. “No, nothing like that”, he laughs. “I’ll stand with you.” We both position ourselves on top of the grate, almost immediately the warmth spreads around us. “This actually is very nice”, I say, the steam coupled with the coat around me, I feel very relaxed. Silence takes over us, I wait for him to talk but he has his vision directed at our surroundings. “The place looks pretty, doesn’t it?” “That’s what I was thinking”, he agrees. Silence again, I can’t think of anything to say. I smile at him but he gives me a faraway look, as if trying to spot something. Just then the grate lets out a burst of steam, messing my hair all around my face. I smile embarrassedly as Nick laughs. “Hold on, I’ll get you out.” He untangles my hair, I see his face right near mine as the hair moves off my eyes. Nick sweeps my hair off my shoulders. I try looking anywhere but him, although it’s difficult considering how close we’re standing. The last time something like this happened, we were interrupted, I don’t see how that can occur again. “There’s one problem with this weather”, he says softly, “Without the sunlight, I can’t see that… seamlessness of yours. I kind of miss it.” I don’t know how to respond, all I do is return his gaze and we stand like that for the next several moments, no sooner do I blink that Nick speaks again. “Crap! I was sure that would have some effect.” “Huh?” I ask confusedly. “You blinked! An intense stare’s supposed to work but it obviously had no effect on you”, he says annoyed, “But believe me, my wooing techniques are usually good. Just ask Carl, he never gets girls but when he does, he uses my methods.” “You were pretending…” I realize, “I mean, it wasn’t bad but I didn’t really…” I let my sentence trail. “Yeah, I know”, he says stepping off the grate, “You know what, I’m not going to claim to be good at anything from now on.” He seemed so sincere when he was looking at me, I suppose I just don’t know what that look is. I quickly brush the enamored feeling off and straighten my voice, “Don’t worry, keep trying.” “I’ll just stick to finding ‘Her’, no more of these lame tricks. In fact, I’d given up on them for some time now. Maybe that’s why it didn’t work on you, I might be rusty.” “That’s probably the reason”, I agree with him, its better if he thinks it didn’t work, at least I’ll avoid an embarrassing scene like the one at the beach, “So what brought about this sudden search for this one girl?” “I guess when I got knocked down by your car, things were put into perspective.” “It’s remarkable when things like these happen. Something unexpected brings about a change in your life. You’re not going to start thanking me for hitting you, are you?” “No I’m not, in fact you’ll be getting your court summons any day now”, he jokes. “But you’re right, these kinds of things, when they happen, kind of turn out to be happy incidents.” “Yeah, one day I resign from my job because I didn’t want to work for a big firm and the next day I’m working for an even bigger one, you know I got another offer from them?” “How come you didn’t tell me?” he asks amazed. “We were always in the office, it didn’t feel like the right time.” “So, uh, sre you planning on accepting?” I notice a flicker of nervousness on him. “No”, I tell him, this time a trace of joy could be noticed. “You turned them down?!” He asks happily before readjusting himself, “I mean, why exactly?” “Because I didn’t want to return to a place I didn’t enjoy being in. I told you before, I want to do something that makes me feel content”, though I leave out the fact that I still don’t feel wholeheartedly content. That’s another matter. “Also, I didn’t want to leave something else behind.” “And what’s that?” “Seeing you every day”, I say honestly, there are just some things that I don’t feel like holding back nowadays. This is one of them, and I want him to know, “That’s one of the reasons I decided on staying back.” “Really?” He asks me with a flattered smile. “Yes. It’s become a habit of mine to see you during the day. I can’t remember the last time I had lunch alone.” “It means a lot for me to hear you say that.” “I’m just telling you the truth.” “Then I might as well say it as well. I was freaking scared a minute ago when you told me about the offer.” “I could see that”, I laugh. “And I don’t even know what to eat for lunch anymore considering you’re the one ordering for the both of us. So if you had left I would’ve stopped having lunch altogether”, he says swiftly, “Plus, going back home alone would’ve sucked, it’s hard to believe I used to sit in a cab by myself doing nothing. Believe me, Emily. It really was a relief to know you’re not leaving.” “I could see that too”, I laugh again. “I said too much, didn’t I?” He chuckles. “Its fine, I find it charming”, I tell him, he pauses for a moment, making me wonder if I said too much. “You’re not trying the wooing thing on me, are you? I find it difficult to believe when you call me charming.” “You always wanted me to call you that.” “Guys like Hugh Grant are usually seen as the charming ones, that’s what I’ve learned. With that guy, what you see is what you get. The one we watched now is from 2007.” “How is it still on then?” “It’s a Hugh Grant film, Emily. They’re always on.” “If his other movies have the same moral as this one then I won’t mind seeing more of the same.” “What moral was there in this one?” “Didn’t you notice the lyrics in the song? The film was all about how it reflected the characters. Focus on the lyrics. ‘I’ve been living with a shadow over head’?” “I get your point”, he says sounding impressed, “Now that I think about it, the whole song had a pretty good story behind it.” “It did, like the line, ‘find a way back into love’, the girl’s character wanted this the entire time. It just appealed to me so much.” “When he sings ‘Not somebody just to get me through the night’. It’s like my ‘Her’ theory in a nutshell.” “For me it was the part where she said ‘I need inspiration, not just another negotiation’. That’s the case for me”, I tell him, sitting there in the darkened cinema hall, the sudden realization was overwhelming but now that I’ve had time to ponder over those lines, I feel somewhat upbeat, “That’s why I’ve shied away from being in a relationship. I don’t want to be with someone who makes me feel as if I’m entering a contract. With John, it was as if I had to live by his terms alone, he turned me into someone I didn’t want to be. With Guy, I didn’t realize that I was just trying to settle down. It really was a negotiation. Now that I’m by myself, it’s helped me put things in focus.” “What does the future hold, then? Any chance for someone else in your life?” “Maybe”, I say after careful consideration. “That’s a step forward from never and I think you’re moving in the right direction. At least now there’s a chance.” “For whom?” I ask curiously. “I doubt think there’s anyone. At least not right now”, I add glancing over at him by my side as we resume walking. “You never know… For the moment, do you want to take a taxi or keep walking?” 1.30 am, in a darkened street with the possibility of rain. Once, not too long ago, the very idea would’ve been ludicrous to consider. But times are changing, perhaps I am too. “It’s not too bad out here.” “Then let’s keep going wherever we’re headed”, says Nick. His implication didn’t pass by me but I settle to ask about it for later. I’m happy with where we are. I notice him with a curious smile and a sudden spring in his step as we walk along. Summer “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!” “Guys, you’re supposed to sing the birthday song!” “What are we kids?” “You are a kid, Alicia.” “Forget the song.” “Hey, hey! Who’s the party planner here?” Nick asks rhetorically to the crowd, “Remember the rule, whoever doesn’t sing, doesn’t get any cake.” “Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday to you! Happy Birthday, Emily! Happy Birthday to you!!!” Everyone claps and whistles as the song ends. “Okay, now make a wish.” Time seems to have stopped as I scan the crowd. So many friends and family. Just a year ago, I’d been working an all-nighter, not even aware that my birthday had come to pass. 12 months later, I can’t even see the table the cake rests on, all these gifts hide it from view. It’s remarkable how they’re all here, Stacy, somehow able to land her feet on the ground just for this night. Layla, my college friend from Oman who’s moved back here. Michael, what started as odds has turned into a firm friendship with him. My siblings and mother. Alicia, seeing her smile so wide after so long might just be the best gift I could get. I faintly hear everyone but I have to find him among them first. There he is, standing right ahead. Nick beams and winks at me. I smile back and blow the 31 candles on the enormous cake. “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” They yell again. I get dragged into playing birthday party games such as musical chairs among others. It’s ridiculous but so well meant, I couldn’t have enjoyed it more. After that it’s time to open the gifts, every unwrapping is met with more rapturous applause. I feel so humbled by the amazing reception for tonight. Most of all to Nick, but he’s nowhere to be seen. His Emily seems to have had a lot of fun tonight. She’s become much more social since we met earlier this year, I wasn’t anywhere near as good friends with the majority of the people here before, myself. Crazy how she’s reentered my life, how different it used to be, and I don’t want to go back. Being blinded by that watch and hit by her car was a true blessing in disguise. “Hey, Mikey”, I call out as he passes by me, “Have you seen Carl?” “Yeah he just left somewhere with that girl, Kady”, Mikey tells me. Kady, of course, Emily’s sister. Her fixation with finding someone for herself rivals even my ‘’Her’ aspirations. No wonder Carl ran off, considering the bad luck he has usually with women. But he’s left Emily’s gift somewhere and I need to find it. My path gets blocked in the form of someone frightening, Kyle. “Hey, man. Enjoying the party?” I ask nervously. “It’s great, Nick”, he replies, unexpectedly in a gentle manner. “Hold on a second”, Kyle puts his hand on my shoulder, making me screech to a halt. “I wanted to ask about you and Emily.” “Okay”, I say unsurely, this can’t be good. “Could you tell me what exactly your relationship is?” “We’re friends.” “Oh, uh, I just thought that seeing you guys at the airport and today”, Kyle mumbles, looking embarrassed. “I threw this party because she told me she hadn’t had one in a long time….wait a second, the day at the airport you and Emily had a bit of an argument. Could you tell me what that was about?” “That? Well… I heard you telling Li that you were Emily’s boyfriend and I thought maybe you were the reason she and Guy might’ve had any problems with each other. And when I saw all this, I was sure you two might’ve been together considering you spend all the time with each other.” “Well…” “But hey, don’t worry about it, man. Take it easy”, he thumps me on the back, knocking me right into the gift table. He doesn’t even know how much I’ve worked on keeping it stable with Emily these past few months. I’d decided on letting things run their course, I’ve been content with simply being there as her friend, but for quite some time now I’ve had these enquiries as to why she and I are just friends. Could she have left Guy because for me? I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think a few times that she shares the same sentiments for me as I do for her. But the problem lies in one word. Maybe. Because maybe all of this could be in my head. On one hand, she made a move at the beach but on the other, she said wholeheartedly that she felt nothing romantic for me. Everything’s thrown into dust and I keep myself hung on maybe, just maybe. I sit by the wall, the doctor did say the limp would recur whenever I got excited. Don’t worry about it, Nick. You’ll find it somewhere here, although I get the odd feeling I’m being watched. “Oh, Hi, Alicia.” “Looking for this?” she asks holding up a small wrapped package. “Yes, I am”, I confirm gladly. “I saw you looking at your friend over and over again while Aunt Emily was cutting the cake. You must really want her to have it. It feels like a book. She used to get one every year.” “I didn’t want to bother myself with finding a great gift, I’m not that jobless, you know?” “Why’d you spend all that time throwing her this huge party?” she asks. I understand her insinuation and simply smirk evasively. “Don’t go saying anything to your uncle, remember what almost happened?” “Don’t worry, I actually like you.” she smiles. “You’re not too bad yourself.” “And I want to thank you for taking me for all these things, the amusement park all that. Sorry for what happened last time”. “I think you owe your Aunt Emily that apology”, I say, it wasn’t me she had lashed out at. “I invited you, not her.” “But she’s your aunt. I can’t take you out by myself.” “What if I start calling you Uncle Nick from now on?” “Nice loophole”, I chortle, “You might make a good lawyer someday.” “See, that’s why I like you, Uncle Nick”, she butters up to me, “You get me.” “Give your Mom and others a chance, kiddo. They’ll get you too”, I ruffle her hair and get up, “Now can I have the gift?” “You never did answer my question.” I simply smile at her before moving away. “It was an incredible party”, says Emily looking tired but with a happy. “Didn’t I tell you I was quite the party planner?” “You most certainly did”, she does a mock bow, “Never again will I doubt your abilities.” “I’m just glad it all worked out fine.” “Honestly, it makes me wonder what I did to deserve it”, she says appreciatively. “Honestly? I was thinking the same thing”, I joke, “But kidding aside, Emily, who else would you expect it from?” “I suppose you’re right. Especially considering it was arranged by my best fr-” “I thought you didn’t like labeling your relationships”, I comment, referencing an earlier when she’d told me she didn’t believe in terms such as ‘best friend’ as it only put pressure into the relationship. “I could make an exception”, she relents. “I can say it without hesitation that you’re my best friend.” “Thank you.” “Don’t need to thank me for stating a fact”, I tell her, my eyes move over to the room as I notice the enormous mess, “Then again, now that you’ve admitted it, how about lending a hand with your best friend?” “Of course”, she giggles. “You went through all this trouble arranging, it’s not fair you’re stuck with the mess. By the way, where’s Carl?” “Err… He left with someone.” “Carl? You mean the guy who barely even knows how to talk to a girl?” “Yeah, he gets lucky at the oddest of times.” I say uncomfortably, I should leave Kady with the task of dropping this unfortunate news on Emily. “Why is he living with you again?” “Because he’s new here and I want to help him get a job, till then we’re back to being roommates. So, how would you rate this party?” “Like you have to ask me that. But for your benefit, I’ll say it anyway. It was perfect. What are you going to come up for next year?” “It’s cute that you think I’m going to do this again”, I say sarcastically, “In any case, it’s your turn next. I’m going to be waiting intently for January.” “Well then, I’d better get my pen and paper ready.” “Speaking of writing…” “Please, Nick, don’t start.” “I can bet anything you had a million things going in your head during the party and you were just itching to write them down.” “We all think all the time, it’s what people do.” “But no one can express it like you can”. “We’ve been over this so many times. I’m not going to be a writer.” “Why not? What’s stopping you?” “For one thing, didn’t you say it yourself that you didn’t want me to quit my job?” “Yes, but that was before you showed me your notebook.” “I should never have done that”, she whispers audibly under her breath as she takes the decorations down. “I heard that. It doesn’t matter anyway, it was the best thing I ever read. Let’s not forget that you told me that you would like to be a writer.” “It was just that sort of moment. Besides I said I’d like to be a writer if I get the opportunity.” “And I told you, I know some guys for that. If you just let me show your writing to them, you’ll see how much it deserves to be published.” “They’ll never go for it. Real writing’s different, you need a passion for it.” “You think I forgot what you told me at the library years ago? If that wasn’t passion, I don’t know what is.” “That was six years ago.” “Alright, then what about the book club you dragged me to six days ago? You don’t suggest joining a book club when someone asks you what to do on a Sunday afternoon.” “What do you want from me, Nick?” she asks exasperatedly. “I want you to feel happy with where you are. Because you’re not at the moment and honestly, I feel somewhat responsible for it.” “I am happy.” “But are you content?” I ask, she doesn’t reply, instead hits me on the head with a balloon in a friendly manner. “Why is everything about me today? Why don’t we talk about you?” “I’ve got job security, I’m all set, baby.” “Well, then it looks like you’ll be stuck with me for some time.” “As flattered as I am, I’d still like for you to at least think about it.” “Fine, I will.” “Okay then”, I move over to the unwrapped presents, “Which one did you like the most?” “Gosh, they were all so well meant, I can’t say.” “I knew you’d give me that boring easy-way-out answer. So here, why don’t I make this a little easier?” I hand over my gift. “Weren’t the cake and party enough?” “Nah, it felt incomplete not giving you a present.” “You didn’t have to”, she says carefully peeling away at the wrapper as if not wanting to ruin the packaging, I eye her nervously, all of a sudden this feels like a pretty stupid gift to give. Why did it feel so appropriate before? “Is this…?” “Uh huh”. I murmur, she flips it over to see the cover. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. “You always wanted it”. I say sheepishly noticing the book’s condition for the first time, it looks like I pawned it off a flea store, this has to be the lamest thing I’ve done. “No… I mean, is it… the same one…from the first time we met?” I nod, smiling nostalgically. It had struck me, the moment she’d returned my old Walkman, how Emily had always wanted that book, the reason we met in the first place. So many nights I spent searching for it, last place I remembered keeping it was a darkened storeroom along with hundreds of other boxes of the entire building. I’d sweated my way pushing, pulling stuff out. Finally, it had been found. The rumpled up book being an unattractive gift hadn’t struck me, it’s the dominant thought in my head now. “How’d you find it?” “Some poking around, Carl and Mikey helped too so it wasn’t very difficult”, I ramble, “I know its lame, I can get you a new one.” “I don’t want a new one”, she says, instantly I see her face clearly, touched, “I love it.” “It’s just that… I can’t believe you went through so much… for…” she murmurs, not much different than I was a few seconds ago, “Nick…” Emily looks at me warmly, I was ready for it, we’ve shared so many of these moments. I raise my hand thinking she would want to hold it affectionately but instead, unexpectedly, Emily moves closer and hugs me. The first time we’ve been this close. She wraps her arms around my neck, her head resting above my right shoulder. I move my arm around to complete the embrace. She’s so close, I wonder if she can feel my heart racing against her she tightens her hold, my eyes automatically close with the pressure until she pulls back. “Nick…” I hear her voice and open my eyes slowly, seeing her again. “Thank you.” “Anytime”, I reply softly, seeing her holding the book in her hands makes it feel as if we’ve come full circle. From the teenagers at the airport, to the young people trying to find themselves and back here as adults, brought together by something as small as a book. “You’re so thoughtful that I, uh, I just don’t know how to say…” she says, maybe trying to fill in these silences, at least that’s what it feels like to me. Their This is it then, I’m taking a chance. I’m telling him. If only I could stop feeling so embarrassed and look at him. “I wanted to say that…” “That’ll be 9.99”, he says, I look up in curiosity. “Huh?” “9.99 dollars”, Nick laughs, “You didn’t think I was giving it to you for free, did you?” “Uh…” Another joke, he couldn’t have picked a worse time to have said that. “Fine, you don’t have to pay but I expect a treat sometime in the future.” “Right”, I reply absently, “Well, I guess we should go back to cleaning this up.” Maybe it is meant to be just a gift, perhaps it’s a good thing I got interrupted. “By the way, there’s another reason I got you that book.” “What is it?” “I don’t know. But I expect you to write something about it.” He winks and begins shifting the presents. I get what he means. He doesn’t claim to be, but Nick’s a smart guy because it seems to be working. His gesture’s poetic to say the least and I would love to write it down. When we’d first met, I’d thought I could understand him. All that time later, it’s definitely the other way round. Dear, Nick I’m sure you’re curious who it is that’s writing to you. Well, you’ve guessed it. It’s Emily. Funny, isn’t it? That’s so stupid, it’s not even funny. I crumple the paper up and throw it away. Hey, Nicky! How about I start calling you that? Then we can be called Nicky and Emily. If you like it then how about we make it official? My god, that is terrible, and here I am mulling over a career transition into an author. With writing like this, I should stick with architecture. But I want to come across as amusing so that he can see the funny side of me. Hi, Nick! It’s Emily! Wondering why I’m writing a letter?! Well I thought that seeing how much time we’ve spent killing our batteries, we could kill trees instead! Get it? Because paper comes from trees!! Seriously? What the heck is that? I scrunch the piece of paper to the tiniest of balls and throw it in the shredder. Get your head straight, Emily. You’re writing this to tell him what you feel. He should know everything as it is, no pretending. I take a deep breath and begin. Dear, Nick I’m writing this to let you know of a few things I’ve held back for quite some time from you. Don’t worry, it’s not a big deal. Or maybe it is, I don’t know. But that’s the reason I’m writing this. I don’t know. I didn’t for a long time but I’ve known my side for some now. You already know pretty much everything about me, no matter how much I’ve tried to hide it over the years. That’s one of the reason’s I feel this why I had to write it out. You’re connected to so much of how I think now or how my life’s turned out that I was just scared didn’t want the possibility of leaving anything out. The thing is, when I was younger the whole idea of falling in love and getting married was something that I wanted as well. But I had a rude awakening from the dream I created for myself, in the form of John. After that, the whole thing seemed empty. Then I met you and all it took to get that idea back was a plane ride, you made me think of it another way, the idea of getting swept off my feet, to be exact. I remember that I was the one who had suggested that to you, what you didn’t know was how remarkably surprised I had been in that moment. I let it slide out of my mind but I was still curious about you. You were the one who told me that I deserved to be with someone, that I deserved to be loved. Unfortunately I couldn’t understand those words. I went with Guy, whom I didn’t love. You know that but what you don’t know is that I had someone in mind all that time. It was you. It became clear to me what I felt but you were getting married, I’ll admit it to you now. That was the reason why I didn’t stay in touch, I didn’t want to bear that pain, the one that John had left on me, all over again, I was too scared. The night at the beach, I couldn’t hold it in for that one moment, not because of my fears concerning Guy, but because of my feelings for you. In spite of the guilt I had suppressed over my father’s death, the abandonment John had left me in, I couldn’t help feeling something for you and I’ve tried so much to feel otherwise but I don’t see the point anymore. Nick, you might be goofy, idiotic or whatever, but you’re also the one who reminded me to have fun again, make friends, pursue opportunities, or see the humor where others don’t. More importantly, you were the only one who made me feel anything at all, made me remember that dream I had. So, here’s what I was wondering, would you like to share that dream together? I’m not suggesting we get married and have loads of children but I wanted you to know that, once, I wouldn’t have even thought of such things, now I’m writing them down. You make me think of all this. So, here I come full circle, I don’t know. I’ve never known what your side is. You know mine, I have feelings for you, Nick, I might even be in love with you. It’s been my fear of losing your friendship that’s held me back but please think about it and if you don’t feel the same way, remember that I value our friendship above all else, that’s always been the same and will never change. All my Love, Emily I read the letter repeatedly for the next hour. It’s all true. But the last paragraph has me at a standstill, ‘I might even be in love with you’. It’s not that it’s wrong that made me cross it, but writing that down means I officially let it all out there. I look intensely down at those words. The idea of falling in love with him is a fresher one. Instantly I rewrite those words back in the letter. I place the letter in an envelope, my hand hovers over the mailing till we use here at the office. I close my eyes, imagining I see an ecstatic Nick showing up at my apartment, like he had made me promise the first night we met. Nothing but silence between us, for me, it was the feeling of understanding which I craved. Knowing exactly what the other was thinking and simply letting a perfect moment capture us. The envelope was at the tip of my fingers when I see it. Nick’s face brimming with confusion and embarrassment, so close to me yet so distant in feeling, that moment at the beach. No, it’s too risky. I recall the reason I’d remained in touch with Nick. It was his friendship, it’s brought so much happiness over the year. I should remain content with fully realizing my feelings for him. What matters is that I can carry it with me without having to fight against them anymore. I glance at my watch, Nick should be on his way. Sure enough, through the windows of my office, I see him approaching. Hastily, I throw the letter into a folder and leave the room. Really, it’s fine, being friends. Emily Smith Nick Parsons Hey Emily Weird getting a message on facebook rite? Well I couldnt think of any other way to tell u I dontkno if uve ever noticed it before But Ive been trying to ask u something do u wanna maybe try something else next time we have dinner someplace else or in a different manner U must be realy confused reading this. I actually wasnt sure how to phrase this How about u and I try looking at each other differently? In a more than just friends manner? Emily… would u like to go out on a date? U know what screw it! There I said it Umm… alright But why did you want to say that? The messages before the last two read as ‘not sent’. I smack myself on the head. It took me more than ten minutes to send her those messages and all she received was mild profanity. Why had this felt like the perfect way to ask her out mere moments ago? I quickly turn my chat status to offline. She probably already thinks I’m an idiot. Sometimes I wonder if I should be less me, and more like someone else to impress her. Perhaps a bit more assertive or masculine, then I remember that was what John had been like. But then, the whole charm I feel is the fact that I can be myself when we’re together, the jokester and the serious talker. For the moment, I go back online and make a quick funny excuse which she buys instantly. Autumn “So, let me get this straight, you never wear skin revealing dresses? Not even to weddings where you’re the maid of honor?” “No.” “So what are you going to show up in, a suit?” “Of course not. I’m not Ellen Degeneres.” “That’s sort of a relief”, I laugh, “Anyway, its awkward showing up here by myself.” “No, it’s not.” “Haven’t you ever noticed the groom’s already at the altar? That’s because it’s sad to be at a wedding alone.” “I’m coming soon”, she hushes. “Alright, has the bride tried to run away yet?” “About three times. If you see her, catch her and bring her back.” “Yeah, so she has more reasons to hate me.” “She doesn’t hate you… Fine, she does. I have to deal with her now so talk to you later.” “Right”, I say solemnly as I hang up. “Girlfriend?” A man next to me asks, “They’re all hot at first but once you get chained to them, it’s all yap-yap.” “Sure”, I reply awkwardly, the man, who’s exceptionally tall and well-built reminds me of the jocks in my school, gives me a knowing expression which instead makes him seem dimmer. “Err, I’m going to be right back…” I drift off quickly. Man, was he weird. Usually, I enjoy weddings, I was mildly surprised to have gotten an invitation, I suppose she and I are friends, we do meet occasionally but our medium is with her at the moment. The bigger surprise was witnessing Emily take charge in wedding preparations. She’s held a constant grip over the proceedings. Probably because it’s her first time being maid of honor, makes me wonder how she would have been had she partaken at my first wedding. At least she’ll be at my next, one way or the other. I stare at the altar. Six years since I’d stood there myself. I find myself thinking of all the things that have changed since then. From an unemployed, in debt, assured twenty five year old to a senior employee, well settled man in his early thirties, yet unsure of what’s next. All through my journey here I’ve managed to keep myself going with a new goal in place, now there’s the last objective to complete. But here’s where I’m unsure. What if? The younger Nick would simply ‘go with it’ but that got him a cheating wife, a hefty divorce and an aborted child. It’s too bad that Nick’s been replaced by one who’s so nervous about taking the next step. Sometimes it wouldn’t be too bad to be spontaneous again. I guess I have to wait for the moment. But I keep wondering the same question. What if I go for it? That man standing at the altar could be me, waiting for- “Waiting for me?” Emily asks from behind, startling me. “Sorry to keep you waiting. But you know Stacy, she’s always a flight risk.” She wears a sequin dress with long sleeves, covering her completely but remarkably showing off a dazzling radiance, attributed to the beaded lining, almost poetically, the sun makes its first appearance from within the clouds and shines down on us. As if in a trance, I vacate my seat and offer it to her. “Please”, I request, still under the trance. “Thanks”, she says amusedly, most probably under the impression that I’m kidding around. “You alright? You seem a bit dazed.” “It’s just, ah…” I waver, the sun goes back amongst the clouds, shading the grounds again, “It’s… nothing.” “That was chivalrous of you, giving me your seat.” she smiles continuing to be amused. “It’s not dead, you just-“ “Have to ask for it?” She interjects. “I guess I keep repeating myself nowadays.” “That suit is new though. Pretty dashing, I must say.” “That’s what I was going for”. “Not charming?” “Which one would you prefer?” “Does it matter?” she giggles. “Yes”, I say simply. “Um, okay then”, she says seeming slightly taken aback by my straight forwardness, “All these years you’ve wanted to be charming and it’s gotten to my head as well, so I’ll go with that.” “Alright then”, I smile satisfyingly, she does as well. “So… did you get the gift?” “Did I have to?” “You didn’t? Nick, you’re at Stacy’s wedding. She absolutely loves presents.” “Fine. I’ll just have to avoid her. In any case, she’s held me up for ‘replacing’ you as her best friend. Especially when you said it in front of her.” “I didn’t know she was listening.” “She might’ve made you maid of honor just so that you rename her as the best friend.” “Not all of us are as childish as that, Nick”, says Emily. Damn it, more of the silly jokes, she doesn’t have to hear that. “Emily?” “Hmm?” “What are your plans after this?” I ask her, going for the subtle intelligent approach. “Umm, pretty much the same”, she says questioningly, “Go to work and then whatever you and I usually do, I suppose.” “Interesting, and how long do you plan on continuing that way?” I ask. Nick, you somehow seem even more childish. “What? Are you feeling okay, Nick? You’re being so strange?” “It’s, uh…” My voice cracks under pressure, the sun emerges, instantly I get my response, “It’s just that…uh… you look… really pretty”. I say in a small voice, somewhat impulsively but also truthfully. “Oh… thanks”, she replies and to my surprise even looks as if she might be blushing. I marvel at the unforeseen response. Is she really flattered or was that a friendly appreciation? She brushes away her hair, with a peculiar smile on her face, not looking at me. My hearts beats a bit faster, is there a possibility here? Could I have unlocked some sort of a door? “Emily?” “Yeah?” she asks looking up. “I was wondering-“ The phone in her hand bursts with sound, making us both start in surprise. “It’s Stacy”, she says hastily picking up the call. I faintly hear Stacy’s voice, sounds like she’s having quite the case of cold feet. “Emergency?” “A real one”, says Emily, rushing past me towards the bridal room. But she turns back, “What were you about to ask?” I see the same level of anticipation in her as I usually carry with me and I can be sure that I’m not imagining it but this isn’t the way I’d like it to be. Not when she’s rushing to go somewhere else. “Nothing that can’t wait”, I say, she nods wearily and runs back. “Beautiful wedding, dear.” “I have to say, you were the calmest bride I’ve ever seen.” I stifle my laughter, passing it off as a cough after attracting the stares of the elder guests who had flocked around Stacy to congratulate her. If only they’d noticed her frantic attempts to escape just behind the altar, I had to pretend to trip in the middle of the aisle to cause the distraction. But once Stacy had been brought back to her senses, she and Blaize were married and all was well. Too bad Emily and I won’t be getting any credit for helping pull it off. The crowd shifts away allowing me to approach Stacy. “I wanted to give my congratulations but Blaize isn’t around.” “You could congratulate me.” “No, I wanted to congratulate him for resisting you for so many years.” “Why did I invite you to my wedding?” “Because deep down you like our banter?” “Nah”, she says after considering my words, “I’m just waiting for you to get married so I can sympathize with your wife.” “Play fair, it’s a wedding after all.” Emily appears. “Considering you guys are basically married. I’ll just sympathize with you, Emily”, says Stacy, “Why do you put up with him?” “He got me my job”, Emily replies in a loud whisper, making Stacy hoot in delight. “So that finally clears it up. Did he pay you a bonus for calling him your best friend?” “I’m bound by my contract, can’t comment on that”, Emily continues joking. “Hanging around with him so much, you’ve taken on that sarcastic flare yourself”, Stacy observes. “Emily!” I pretend to be angry, “You’re not supposed to tell anyone.” “That’s right!” she plays along, “I’m going to be punished for this.” “Punished?” Stacy asks intently, “Ahem, how does that go?” “It’s not like that, you perv!” Emily says to her embarrassedly. “Now you even pick on these subtle references? Nick, you’ve done a lot of work on her.” “Frankly, I’m offended you would say such things after what we did for you.” I say. “What did you do?” she asks inquisitively. “We got you tickets to England, that’s what!” Nick takes them out of his pocket. Stacy bursts with excitement. “You got us tickets? Oh my God”, Stacy jumps, hugging me tightly. “You guys wanted to go there to visit Blaize’s uncle. So we thought we’d help.” “You did. You really did!” Stacy hugs Nick as well, to my surprise. “Thank you, guys. I’ll be right back. Blaize!” Stacy runs off into the crowd. I turn to Nick, who looks at me with a playful smile. “We got her those tickets?” “Yeah, you don’t remember?” he asks jokingly. “Seriously, Nick. When did you get them and how did you know about his uncle?” “Want to get a seat?” Nick asks. The floor begins to get crowded by people getting ready to dance as the music begins, we dodge them all carefully before finding a table. “I overheard her telling you about Blaize’s uncle he couldn’t afford to see.” “Really, Nick”, I laugh, “Why would you do all this?” “I guess I do have some degree of fondness for Stacy. But only a small one”, I add at the end. “And adding my name?” “She thinks we’re married. So we could say it was a gift from the Parsons. Or the Smiths, I don’t mind taking your name.” “Do you ever stop joking?” I chuckle nevertheless. “Just tell me how. In any case, they’d go to waste if I’d used them for us, considering you’re scared of flights.” “I am not”, I say defensively. Since Li’s father died in the plane crash, my fear of flights has reawakened somewhat. Losing my father, my aunt and then my brother in law, all in the same way. Now that we see each other all the time, Nick’s Walkman might not work. “So much for our traveling to Italy plans.” He says. “How about we road trip across the country?” “Seriously?” he asks skeptically. “You’d want to do that?” “Absolutely, Why not?” “Alright then”, says Nick excitedly, we both shake each other’s hands in agreement. “I think about the trip to Oman, sometimes. I’d never thought that I’d run into you there and travel all around the city in just a day.” “Do you ever wonder what it would’ve been like if we’d gone on ahead together? If I hadn’t erased your number my mistake.” “I wouldn’t have met Guy.” “And I wouldn’t have gotten married.” “But then there’s so many things in life like that, don’t you think?” I ponder, “Basically, a lot of decisions which you regret.” “I know, but there are a lot of things that end up working out. If I hadn’t gone through all those hard times then I wouldn’t have been where I am today.” “That reminds of something Layla had told me, Muslims believe that everything is bound to work out for person as long as they’re willing to wait. If you think about, they’re right. You did hang in there.” “I guess I had some help with that along the way”, he says giving me an acknowledging nod, “But she’s right. Maybe we should just wait for something we want and be happy with what we have till then.” “Stacy being one of the better examples”, I say looking over at her dancing happily with Blaize. “Engaged for six years and finally married.” “She still tried to escape, though.” “That’s just the way she is. She would definitely have turned back You wouldn’t believe what she was like before, always out and partying and then just one day she meets Blaize and she’s with him since. The only pity is that she’s been away in Spain for so long these years and now she’ll be gone for good.” “Must’ve been difficult for them having to fly back and forth all this time.” “Which is why it took them so long to get married.” “The waiting theory again.” “Although, truth be told, even if things do work out, there’s bound to be some sort of regret in your mind, don’t you think?” I ask, “There are still a lot of things I did and I can’t help myself thinking what I could have differently. Do you?” “That, Emily, is the difference between a person who’s satisfied with everything they have and a person who’s still looking.” “You think?” “I’m sure of it. There’s always a person out there who feels he has all he needs. While the rest might have what they want but have that incessant, maybe unattainable, need that they can’t fulfill until they finally have it.” He explains, “But the crappy part about those kinds of people is that most of the time they don’t know what they need, sometimes they confuse it with something else or sometimes they’re just too scared to take the leap.” “So do you think you might have everything you need?” “Absolutely not”, he smiles, “I’m one of those people who’s too scared to do anything about it.” “Then what’s the fix for it?” “I guess I’m just hoping to not be scared one day or…” he pauses, with a questioning look directed towards me, “Well, to have that day where I don’t sit around going… What if?” “That’s a pretty big question”, I smile in acknowledgment. “I ask that to myself as well. Although I’m sure your question ties up to ‘Her’, doesn’t it?” “Might be”, he smiles too, confirming my notion. “For instance, what are the odds that I go out there and dance and find the person I’m looking for?” “Would be sort of poetic justice, your hardships bringing you to happiness.” “Would be a good book, if only someone would write it.” “Here we go again…” “Emily, I spoke to a few people about it and all you have to do is give them a copy of your work.” Nick speaks quickly, “If it doesn’t work out, you don’t need to know. If they want to go ahead, then it’s your decision.” I think to myself, maybe clearly for the first time over this matter, why should I say no? As Nick said, it might be time to stop thinking about the ‘What if?’ Maybe I’ve waited this out long enough. “You’ll give them a copy of the one you showed me?” He asks hopefully. I nod, “Emily, you won’t regret this.” “Tell me something, Nick. Do you really think everyone needs something?” “We all need someone.” “I don’t know if I’ve ever needed someone”, I consider his words. In spite of my burgeoning feelings for Nick, the thought that I might need him has never struck me before. For him, loving someone and needing them run synonymously. “Maybe you might see it differently someday, who knows?” I say to her. The way I’ve felt, how I feel now, there’s no other way for me to see it. You have to feel connected to the one you love. Through all the turmoil with Leah, she was someone I wanted, not someone I needed in my life. The two years I spent trying to find that someone by seeing several women had only made it clear that you can’t compromise on love. I just wish Emily would see it that way, it’s because she doesn’t that I still haven’t taken the leap. My eyes travel towards couples dancing, looking maniacal but happy in their madness. Such sheer lunacy, this thing called love. Yet, they all want to take a dive and lose themselves in its deep waves. Do I want to be lost amongst them? I don’t know but I’d like to. My eyes journey towards Nick whose gaze coincidentally turns to me as well, he holds his hand out to me as I knew he would. Yet I still look questioningly at him, with a whisker of a smile, perhaps his reflecting on me. Nick gives a casual shrug of his shoulders, hand still offered. What if? I think, setting my hand in his as he helps me up gently. “What now?” “Maybe let the song decide?” I suggest as the familiar music reaches our ears. “I don’t know if you’ll find ‘your way back’ in this crowd.” “I’m sure I’ll be fine”, I say softly, he seems pleased. “It’s not too bad, huh, dancing?” “Something you’ve taken interest in?” “I guess, maybe I could-“ I barely hear the rest though, as my eyes fall on a man a little distance away from us. That face doesn’t fail on me, it’s John. “What’s wrong?” I ask Emily, a petrified expression on her, I turn around only to feel the same way. It’s been years but that terribly attractive face is still etched in my memory. Leah. “I can’t believe it”, Emily says. “I know. Here we were just talking about her and-“ “Her? I meant him.” “Who?” I see her pointing towards a tall man beside Leah. “Who’s he?” “John.” “Wait a minute, that’s the weird guy from before.” “Who’re you talking about?” “Leah.” “That’s Leah?” Emily takes a closer look. “She really is pretty.” “Johnny over there isn’t too bad himself.” I say with disdain. “So what’s the plan here?” says Nick before turning towards me excitedly. “Plan?” “Don’t tell me you haven’t thought of getting back at him?” “I did, but didn’t we decide to let it go?” “I know but… look at them right there. We could get it all out once and for all.” “I doubt they’ll care about that.” “I’m going over to Stacy and asking her what Leah’s doing here in the first place”, says Nick and disappears into crowd before I get a chance to say anything. Leah might be small enough to blend in but John’s too tall for that as I see him just a little distance away. The years have been kind to him, he’s still as effortlessly handsome as he used to be but what I once felt looking at him, all I feel now is disdain. Contempt for the man responsible for making me lose my father, so many years I spent avoiding feeling anything close to affection for another man, all due to him. While he enjoys his dance, I stand here with all the memories and emotions pouring back in. All of a sudden, Nick’s sounds like the only thing worth doing. “So get this”, says Nick rejoining me, “Leah was friends with Stacy back in Italy, when she went there from Spain. And here’s the real mind blowing tidbit. John is Leah’s boyfriend.” “I thought Leah was married to Mark.” “I guess she’s not done with the drama”, says Nick scornfully, “What did you decide, then? Because I don’t care, I’m going to go there and say it all.” “Count me in.” “All right”, Nick says satisfyingly, “If you want to hurt him more, then I have some other information you could use. He complained to me about being chained to one woman.” “Sounds good to me.” “Let’s go then”, he leads the way. “How about we do it one at a time? I pull him back, “With both of us shouting, we won’t understand anything.” “Yes, give him hell!” “That’s what I plan on doing”, I say, so long since I’ve felt this anger, time to finally let it out. I raise my hand to tap him on the back turned towards me. I look at Nick for support which he gives with an enthusiastic look, arms outstretched, and shouts encouraging words in my direction, which is when I unexpectedly picture myself away from the throngs of people. To a place much more secluded, where I’d seen Nick in the exact same position, only with a completely disheveled appearance, standing atop a small mount, yelling words in the air. Back then I’d encouraged him to let it go, be happy with where he was and move on. In my anger I’ve forgotten that lesson. The difference between letting it out and letting it go. We’ve both come so far from when we were helpless people feeling completely alone in this world and it was all done not because we remained angry but because we chose not to be anymore. I retract my hand and head back into the crowd towards the seats. “Hey, hey! Emily!” Nick catches up to me, “What’re you doing?” “I’m not going to do it, Nick.” “What?! Why?” He asks in aghast. “That’s not what I want. And I’m sure that’s not what you want either.” “Nope, I definitely want to do this.” “But do you need to do this?” I ask, he looks at me doubtfully. “I don’t… but maybe it’s something I should do or else I’m going keep wondering if I should have done it.” “Come on, Nick”, I say gently placing a hand on his shoulder, “You’ve already let it go before. You don’t need to do this.” “Are you sure?” “Positive”, I smile, “You’re not that kind of a person.” “I know”, he sighs. “I’m an idiot.” “Maybe a little, but a sweet idiot.” “And you’re a pretty cool nerd”, I smile as does she. “Let’s get out of here, shall we?” she suggests, “I’m going to be meeting Stacy at the airport.” “Might as well”, I agree as we begin walking back. “By the way, what were you planning on saying to Leah?” “Actually I didn’t plan on saying anything to her directly. It’s really immature and stupid but I wanted to go up to John and shout ‘Hey Johnny, I nailed your girlfriend’.” Emily looks at me wide-eyed. It does seem like a really immature thing for me to have said. She keeps staring at me, maybe I shouldn’t have told her. “What? It’s not that shocking”, I say, the atmosphere changes abruptly, the light autumn breeze replaced by a sense of breathlessness. Something large behind me seems to be blocking the air. I turn around to see John glaring at me. “What did you say?!” he yells. You nailed my girlfriend?!” “Uhhh…” I gape at him openmouthed, “No?” “John, where did you-?” Leah appears from behind, registering my presence with equal amount of shock I had, “Nick? What’re you doing here?” “So you know him!” John shouts, “I’m going to kill you!” He says turning back to me. My mind’s too blank to think of a counterargument. “Hey, everyone! It’s the bride’s orders”, Stacy takes the microphone and announces, “And my order is…Dance!” Instantly, every member of the crowd takes to the dance floor. John gets dragged in with the mob while Leah stares at me confusedly, I give her a sheepish shrug. Someone grabs me by the hand and tugs, I comply with it. Through the crowd we escape into a clearing. No sign of John or Leah, I exhale in relief to see Emily standing next to me. “Were you planning on getting a beating? I had to create a distraction for you.” “Oh, so you were the one behind the dancing announcement, pretty smart.” “I was counting on it to work. By the way, do you have any idea where we are?” “Looks to me like the rest of the park”, I observe, “This was an odd yet beautiful to get married.” “It was also an odd place to run into them.” “Tell me about it, what were the chances we would encounter our former flames at a wedding? We didn’t leave the place the calmest of the lot.” “It’ll be fine. It’s Stacy’s wedding, it was bound to get crazy.” “Too bad we couldn’t stay for the dance.” “At least you got to keep your legs by fleeing”. She jokes. “It’s crazy, don’t you think? Who would have thought those two would find each other somehow?” “Sort of a perfect match, if you think about it.” “Oh, a match made in heaven for sure… or hell, wherever they come from.” “Well, we don’t have to worry about that anymore. I finally know for sure that I’m over him”, she says happily, “And you?” “When I decided against confronting her and forgetting about it, I have to say, it was like a load was off.” “How’s the limp? I noticed you were having some difficulty.” “I’m fine. At least that whole incident brought some life in this dead autumn weather.” “I like autumn, it’s like the season where things begin starting anew.” “That’s spring.” “No, I mean, it feels like the time to move on.” Emily explains. “I know you’re a summer person. The bright rays of the sun you just can’t get enough of.” “I love a rainy weather just as much.” “I don’t particularly enjoy the rain.” “Are you kidding? I love standing in the rain, it feels incredible.” “From the looks of the sky, I’d say you have a reason to be optimistic”, she says looking up at the grey overcast condition of the clouds which had completely hidden the sun from view. “Let’s get moving then.” “Nah uh. I’m going to show you how much fun the rainy weather can be.” “You don’t even know if it’s going to rain.” “Those aren’t teardrops on your face, are they?” He asks, I touch my cheeks to notice the drops of water on them, looking at Nick, I notice several more droplets beginning to fall from the sky. “Oh my God, it is raining. Come on, Nick let’s get some shelter.” “No way, I’m staying out here. You’re welcome to join me”, he says. I look around for someplace to stand under but considering we’re in the middle of a meadow, that’s not possible. Nick, meanwhile has one of the widest smiles I’ve seen on his face, clearly enjoying himself. “Why do you love the rain so much, anyway?” “Because it’s fun!” he says loudly over the booming of the clouds, “Not everything needs a reason.” “So what now? We just stand here?” I shout. “Haven’t you ever been out when it’s raining?” “I usually duck and get back home before I get too wet.” “Well, I’m going to show you the difference between feeling the rain and getting wet”, he says pulling me by the hand and leading me over to the center of the meadow. “This is ridiculous”, I laugh although I do as he says. The rain gets stronger. I close my eyes from the pressure, the water touches my face, sliding off my cheeks and into my hair, I twirl my hands in the air, trying to capture a few of the droplets in my palms. The water feels magically clean as I open my eyes, the entire meadow glows. Nick circles in his spot, shaking the water out of his air. He opens his eyes to find me admiring his enthusiasm. “Feel it yet?” He asks with a smile. “Maybe”, I smile as well. “A walk in the rain’s just what you need to get my point”, he says positively prancing in his footsteps, amusing me greatly. “Where do you get this energy from?” I ask him with admiration. “From the little things, something as simple as the rain’s enough to spruce me up.” “How about I give it a try too?” I ask feeling unfamiliarly impulsive, “Want to race?” “To where?” He asks with a laugh. “Anywhere, it is raining, what does it matter where we go?” We take off, simply running around the meadow, splashing our feet in the grass, behaving maniacally but not having any care for it. It’s just the two of us. I stop midway as my weaker leg trips, causing me to fall flat on the grass, humorously viewing Emily frolic in the field, she’s under the impression I’m scampering with her. There are few moments when she completely loses herself and the times that she does, I feel glad that I’m there to see her. Emily takes a huge leap off the ground and lands next to me, falling flat as well. We both laugh at our silliness. She picks herself up and offers me her hand, shrugging her shoulders as I had before. I take it. “This is awesome, Nick!” She yells over the loud sound of rain falling. “I’m glad, but it actually is getting really fast, maybe we should find someplace to stand under.” We quickly sprint through the damp grass out of the meadow leading towards a bridge in the distance. “Where to now?” “Under this bridge?” she suggests, we head on down where we finally find shelter from the persistent rain. The only source of light comes from outside. I brush off my hair, my clothes are soaked. I’d completely forgotten we’d been at a wedding, minutes ago. I feel happy, this feeling which can never be replicated. Emily’s splashing feet echo around the darkened bridge, her striking dress drenched but she herself dripping with joy. “That was fun. It really was, I never gave the rain much thought before. Turns out, I didn’t need to think at all”. She says, flipping her hair back and brushing them, her attractiveness almost illuminates the dark bridge, I realize something. I don’t need the sun to shine on her for me to appreciate her beauty. All I need is her to be there with me, always smiling. “Hey, thanks for convincing me to attend the wedding.” “I wanted to thank you for getting Stacy those tickets. It meant a lot to her.” “It was no problem.” “And thank you for, well, basically everything else”, she says her playful expression changing into a gratuitous one, “Nothing of the things I’ve done over the year would’ve been possible without you. So, thank you for bringing out the fun part of me.” “It was always in there. If we’re thanking each other then, Thank you for making me join those book clubs because I actually find them a lot of fun and thanks for having such incredible taste in food although I’m entirely dependent on you now, for that.” “It’s not a problem”, she says with a smile, “So, is appreciation time over or do you want to thank me for something else?” “Actually… I wanted to ask you something”, I say, my heart rising in my chest but I’ve got to do this, “I’ve actually wanted to ask you for a while.” “Uh huh?” I ask, the feeling of hopefulness surfacing. “Emily, I uh, I’ve had these… I wanted to ask you if you were…” “Excuse me, you’re not supposed to be under the bridge.” A man wearing a uniform approaches us, the park ranger. “Sorry, we had nowhere else to go.” “Well, not to worry, I won’t leave you kids out here, hop in the truck.” “Alright then”, Nick says feebly. I comply accordingly with my thoughts on his question, I’m certain it had nothing to do with anything else he’s ever asked me. This time, it felt different. Autumn does have a meaning, it washed away all the load from days gone by and provided me with something I’ve been looking for a long time. I lift my head up to see it among the clouds, the silver lining I’ve always wanted. “Take it easy, run the situation by me”, Mikey assures me but in all honesty, I doubt he sees one. “Like I said, I handed over Emily’s book over to Streamers. They want to sign her on to get the book in print. But then I found out if she agrees to do this then Streamers are willing to sign up as our client. They’re worth billions. Here’s where the problem in. If all this happens, I’ll have to move.” “Why’s that?” “We’ll need to expand our offices and according to my contract, I’m required to oversee the process.” “I see”, says Mikey thoughtfully, “What about Emily, can’t she move as well?” “No, so she’ll have to stay. You’re my lawyer. Is there anything you can do about this?” “Can’t you consider moving? Is Emily the reason you want to stay?” He asks me, my silence is answer enough for him, “Fine, send over a copy of your contract. I’ll try to figure out your options.” “Try whatever you can.” “Are you going to tell her?” “No, if I tell her about the whole thing she’s going to turn the offer down.” “Doesn’t that help you?” “I want her to be happy. No matter if I have to go or lose my job, you don’t know the passion she has for writing. Me, I’ve never really cared about what I do anyway. At least I can help her achieve something she loves.” “And is that the reason why you’re helping her? Or is that the excuse you’ve thought up if she asks you? The least you could do is tell her how you feel. You owe it to yourself. You clearly don’t just like her anymore, it’s much more.” Of course, it is. So much more, this situation has escalated it all much quicker than I could have anticipated. I was so close to telling her everything before this came along. The fear I had all this time about revealing my feelings for her has gone. I’m ready to take the leap but what I want is that perfect moment, where it all ties up for the two us. I don’t know if I could live with the guilt of denying Emily the chance to achieve her dream but I don’t know if I could live away from her. It’s never simple, is it? Winter “It was so simple, Emily! She was with me, you knew that.” “She left a note saying ‘I’m with him’!” she replies. “You should’ve called me.” “I was about to but she insisted against it. She asked me months ago. I’d made a promise. I’ll talk to her about it.” “I think I should”, says Emily, “She needs to hear how irresponsible that was.” “She’s 11 years old. Give her a break. You could’ve at least let her enjoy the fair.” “If I’d done that then she wouldn’t have learnt anything. She needs to understand.” “As opposed to screaming she hates you and sulking by that tree?” I point Alicia out. She and Emily had made quite a scene at the school earlier. Somehow Emily found out our location leading to an embarrassing confrontation in front of numerous people. “That had to happen”, Emily says looking over at Alicia with sadness, “It seems like such a long time ago when she was close to me. Now all she wants is to be as far away as possible.” “I know it sucks”, I say understandingly, “But you do seem to always be at odds with one another.” “We are. It’s because she’s just stopped communicating with me, not just me but with everyone, even her own mother.” “She’s always been fine with me.” “It’s because she blames us for what happened to her father, she’s refusing to let go.” “Why don’t you guys try talking to her about it?” “You don’t think we’ve tried, I’ve tried it all. Taken her to movies, parks, trying to get her to meet new people but she doesn’t want to talk.” “You’re not talking right now. She’s been by herself since you brought us out of the school.” “I know what’ll happen if I try. She’ll misbehave and we’ll end up getting in another argument. It’s happened a lot.” “But isolating her won’t help either. Just look at her, she’s miserable.” We observe Alicia hunched by the tree with tears of anger streaming down her face. “It kills me to see her like that.” Emily tells me. “At least give it a try now. She might understand your point of view.” I say giving Emily a small push in Alicia’s direction. She looks at me nervously. “Just go.” I say. She slowly walks over to Alicia. By the looks of it, Emily seems to be trying to get her to talk. But Alicia’s lack of interest leads to another argument. Emily returns looking glum. “I said we could go back to the fair but she said that she only wanted to go with you. I told you she doesn’t listen.” “Don’t try to bargain or blame her for anything.” “She’s not going to learn if I don’t.” “What do you want her to learn? About behaving? Clearly it hasn’t been working out and I know why, her dad used to bring her here. The poor girl’s depressed because no one talks about the thing she wants to talk about, Emily. Whenever she brings it up, the topic’s diverted into trips to the park or going for movies. It’s not going to help, she needs to accept his loss.” “How do you know this?” “She told me. I’ve spoken to her about this. No one let her feel his loss. She said it feels as if you guys pretend he was never there. She’s hurting and has been for a long time.” “Why didn’t she ever say anything?” “Did you give her a chance?” “I don’t think I did…” “You of all people should understand how she feels”, I say gently, “You lost your father in a similar way and kept it bottled up for years, pretended he died when you were too young to remember him. Well, Alicia’s headed down the same path.” “I can’t believe I didn’t think of it that way”, says Emily heavily, tears forming in her eyes, “I guess I was too busy trying to protect her from the pain to realize I was making it worse.” “All she wants from you is to understand how she feels because you were the one she could talk to before.” “I know”, she wipes her eyes, “You’re right, Nick. I’ve been wrong. I should’ve listened to her.” “There’s still time”, I tell her, laying a hand on her shoulder, “Go and help her grieve her loss”. Emily places her hand on mine. “Thank you, Nick.” “Now get your niece back, it’s been long overdue.” It takes some time and convincing, as I watch the two of them, but eventually they embrace lovingly. Alicia’s finally able to confront her grief with the help of her loving aunt. They needed this. Like I learned years ago, you need someone to be there, unflinching and understanding to help you move on. I turn away to leave, not wanting to intrude, but hear the sound of footsteps behind me. “Uncle Nick! Wait.” “Alicia, what is it?” “I know it’s because of you that Aunt Emily’s changed so much.” “What makes you so sure?” I ask amusedly, Alicia hugs me tightly, I pat her head. “Stay happy, kiddo.” “I hope this makes you happy”, she thrusts an envelope in my hand, “Sorry, but I didn’t know what it was when I opened it.” “What is it?” I call out to her as she runs back. “Read it! Bye.” I open it to find a letter, in Emily’s handwriting. A few words in and my heart begins to race. With each sentence everything I’d hoped for starts to become a reality. My heart skips for a second as I reach the end. It wasn’t one sided. She loves me. She has for a long time. I look up to see her disappearing in the distance, her hair bouncing away just like my heart feels. It’s not a dream. She loves me. It’s time to do something about it, it’s finally the time. Nick Parsons Hi Emily 1.47 pm Hey Nick 1.47 pm I wanted to ask you out for dinner tonight 1.47 pm Dont u always 1.47 pm How about I treat u? 1.47 pm Its becoz of u Li’s finally back to being herself 1.47 pm I want to take you out 1.47 pm Fine. Where do u wanna go? 1.48 pm That place with the weird tacos again? 1.48 pm How about Lost Among the Clouds? 1.48 pm Isn’t that a couples restaurant? 1.49 pm Why do you want to take me there? 1.49 pm Because I’m asking you out 1.49 pm You take me out all the time 1.49 pm Yeah but 1.49 pm Would you like to go on a date with me? 1.50 pm What do you say? 1.51 pm Yes 1.52 pm I’ll meet you there 1.53 pm Whatever suits you 1.53 pm Nick 1.54 pm Are you serious? 1.54 pm This is the first time I’ve ever been serious 1.54 pm Did that really happen? He asked me out on a date, specifically using those words, and I know for sure that he wasn’t kidding. This was different. It’s real, this is all happening. I feel the anxiety rise but there’s a happiness in me as well because I know seeing Nick is going to make everything easy. I fall back in bed and gaze out at the sky above, waiting for night to arrive as quickly as it can. “I can’t believe I thought all that stuff looked cool on me”, says Nick looking at the photo of him back in Oman, “Good thing you didn’t let me buy them.” “How I hoped to hear you say those words.” “I’ll call a cab”, he says as we walk out of the restaurant, the street freezing. “No, let’s go for a walk.” “In this weather?” “You’re with me, I don’t care how the weather is.” “I didn’t think you could get better.” He compliments me. “Still not as good as you, you’ve completely changed my life for the better.” “And you saved my life. Maybe I was just repaying the favor.” “You found a great way to do it.” “I’ll try to keep you thinking that way”, he says with a mischievous grin. “I keep getting the feeling that there’s something you’re not telling me.” “What makes you think that?” “That smile you have.” “I always smile when I’m around you.” “I’m not falling for that”, I tell him although a pleasantness travels in me, “What’re you hiding?” “You’ll know, until then just go with it.” “That’s what I always do.” I say amusedly. “And that’s why I always want to be with you.” “Oh, so much flattery, trying to make me fall for you?” “Who knows, you might even love me already”, he says, the letter flickers in my memory for a second but I continue the teasing. “Maybe you’ve fallen in love with me. Are you going to chance on unrequited love?” “Who says it’s unrequited?” “So you know for sure that I’m in love with you?” “I never said that”, he says with a smile, “Is that true?” “You’ve developed a real way with words”, I say blushing, looking away. “I’ve always loved the way you take your compliments. Gently pushing your hair away, avoiding my eyes.” “Didn’t you need the aid of the sun to see my ‘seamlessness’? “I see it all the time now”, he says softly, making me blush again, smiling nervously. “Well, I’ve always loved the way you put your hands in your pockets and your eyebrows raised with a small smile, whenever you feel close to me.” “I do not.” “You are now”, I say, he notices and gives a small laugh while ruffling his hair. “I think it’s from reading all those books, like the other day, I read something very enlightening.” “What was it?” “About how the girl’s been in love with the guy all this time.” “Sounds derivative, if you ask me.” I comment untruthfully. “I found it inspiring.” “This must have been some book.” “More like a letter”, he says, I look at him curiously, he couldn’t have possibly read that letter. “What’s going on, Nick?” “What’s the hurry, we’ve got all the time we need.” “We have jobs, you know”, I say noticing where we are, in Central Park, on the bridge where we had been two years ago. “Remember this spot?” “The lover’s coven, where all couples dwell? Yes, I do.” “I was talking about what we talked about here.” “You mean when we talked about how you would propose to…” I leave out the rest as he nods, what is he trying to do? “I remember not completing the whole thing.” “Are you going to do that now?” “Nah, I was just wondering whether you remembered.” “Stop talking in circles.” “Why shouldn’t I?” He asks playfully. “Because it’s freezing cold and if you don’t come out with it then I’ll… hit you with a snowball.” “Emily, you only started enjoying the rain not too long ago, I doubt-“ He never finishes the sentence as a snowball whacks him in the face. I clasp my mouth and run over to him. “I’m so sorry, Nick. You know how terrible I am at throwing”, I apologize brushing the snow away. His eyes open as I hold his face in my hands. He gives me a smile as I laugh in relief. “You should just keep your distance from me.” “If getting hit by a door, car or even a snowball is what it takes for you to get this close then by all means…” He says, my laugh recedes to an entranced smile, I don’t let go of him. She doesn’t loosen her hands from my face as I gaze into hers. Moments like this where I feel as if we’re the only two people in the world. “Tell me, Nick. Why did you really ask me out tonight?” “I think you know.” “No, I don’t”, she says softly. “Yes, you do.” “No… I don’t”. “Yes… you do”, I whisper. “No… I…” she breathes. Neither of our eyes leaves the other for a second. The entire year gone by, unsure of what would happen if I took the leap, I know for sure now. Her phone rings loudly across the bridge, almost conveniently interrupting us. It had to happen. “Such a cliché”, I say gently. “Sorry about that”, she laughs tenderly, “I don’t have to pick it up though.” “Alright”, I say, she never drew back, I lean down, almost about to close my eyes when the annoying noise escalates. I drop my head on her shoulder, “Maybe you should just pick it up.” “Fine”, she giggles, moving her arms from around my neck. “Mr. Peters. How come you’re calling me and not Nick? He’s with me if you want to talk to him.” “How about you tell him what he just interrupted”, I joke, making her giggle more, she does a shushing gesture. Emily stifles her laughter as Mr. Peters continues on. I wait for her to get done, it’s just a phone call away and I can barely wait. “No, Nick’s just joking around… why wouldn’t he be in a cheery mood?” she asks, instantly I figure out what Peters must have asked her, “My book? How do you know about that?” “Emily, I have something to tell you”, I say quickly, she steps back. “Yes, Nick did give it to a publisher… what deal?” she asks, her face convulsing with confusion. “Emily listen-“ “Contractual clause… when did all this happen?” Her expression changes dramatically, “How come I wasn’t informed? No, I don’t agree with these terms. Nick doesn’t have to move for… He what?!” She looks at me, face wracked with worry. “Emily…” “I’ll… I’ll call you back”, she stutters slightly, hanging up, looking at me deeply. I wait for her to end the silence but she keeps her stare fixed at me as if searching my face for answers, after which she speaks. “Is it true?” “Yes”, I confirm knowing its best not to play coy. “You quit?” she asks, I simply respond by not breaking her sight. “Why would you do that?” “Peters told you. They would’ve made me move.” “You wouldn’t have needed to. I would’ve turned the offer down.” “I didn’t want that. Getting the offer was more important.” “That was my decision.” “And quitting was mine. I knew you wouldn’t have accepted the conditions.” “Because it wasn’t worth it.” “Yes, it wasn’t, that’s why I took a different approach.” “By resigning!” she says in an accusing manner, “That’s not an approach that was unreasonable.” “No, it wasn’t.” “Nick, you had full job security, you were almost becoming partner of the firm. You’ve worked so hard for years for this and you quit just for this book?” She asks appalled. “How can you say that wasn’t unreasonable?” “Why are we discussing my job?” I laugh in disbelief over her reaction, “You got a publishing deal, this is what you’ve wanted.” “I didn’t want this at your expense.” “It was my decision!” I say firmly, “I resigned, I wanted to.” “You could’ve seen what options you had.” “I tried everything. I had Mikey review my contract. It was iron clad, there was no getting out of it. It was either getting your book published and moving away or staying and letting the deal go.” “Then you should have turned it down.” “Why?!” I ask furiously, “What is the matter here? You get to pursue your passion and I don’t need to move.” “You’re not seeing it, Nick”, she argues heatedly, “Think for a minute, what are you going to do?” “I’ll figure something out, I always do.” “This is what I’m afraid of”, she says weakly, “You’re not thinking practically. You should’ve discussed this with me.” “You know what that discussion would’ve been like? ‘Emily, you got a book deal but I’ll have to move’, ‘Turn it down I’ll stay right here where I’m unhappy and unfulfilled’.” I imitate the conversation. “So you just made this huge decision for the both of us? What gave you the right to do that?” “Because of this need of yours to always put your happiness at the back”, I tell her openly, “When have you ever pursued what you needed? It’s either studying something you never enjoyed or settling to marry someone you didn’t love or taking a job you didn’t want… I just wanted you to finally have something that would make you happy.” “It’s not up to you to decide what makes me happy, Nick”, she says clearly. “So what… you’d rather stay unhappy if it suits others? Don’t you feel like you deserve something yourself for once?” “But not like this. Have you even stopped to consider what I feel with your decision?” she asks welling up, “Nick, I don’t want this on my conscience, that, whatever success I get was because you had to sacrifice your livelihood for it. I can’t… I don’t need you helping me.” “What is wrong with it, Emily?” I ask helplessly, “What is so wrong with needing someone?” “But why…why would you do this for me?” she asks. I stare at her in disbelief, it makes no sense for her to question my reason. “Do I really need to tell you?” “If you did this so that we…” she pauses fighting back tears, “So that we could be together then you were wrong to think that.” “Emily…?” I say her name trying to understand what she means. “I can’t go through with this knowing that I was responsible for you losing what you worked for. I can’t be with you when there’s a possibility of you waking up one day and hating me”, she says with tears streaming down her face, “Because I can live without my dreams but I can’t live with you hating me.” “Emily, that’s never going to happen.” “What if?” “You said it yourself, I’ve made your life better. Then why not trust me on this one?” “I’m sorry, Nick”, she whispers. “So, what does this mean then?” I ask her shattered. “I’m turning the offer down and getting you your job back.” “The replacement’s already been hired. My only option would be to move away.” “I’ll think of something.” “No, Emily. This isn’t the time to think. Forget being smart, be stupid just this one time”, I appeal to her, “Just tell me… do you want this… us?” I wait for her answer, hoping against everything that she stops thinking for once. “If you want me to say yes with everything that’s on the line then… I can’t do that”, she looks away. My heart sinks to the lowest of depths. “Well, if it’s not a yes then… it’s a no”. I say, she still avoids looking at me. “Then I guess there’s no point for me to stay here. Looks like I’m moving”. I say heartbrokenly making her turn to look at me. “Nick, I’ll talk to-“ “I’ve decided it, Emily. I’m taking that transfer”, I cut her off, “Be glad, I made this decision only for myself”. Instantly, I begin walking away, not wanting to stay for a second, the limp resurfacing. Emily calls for me, I hope against everything for the second time for those three words which I need for her to say, the only thing that would stop me. But they don’t come and all I hear are the sounds of Emily weeping as I walk away, leaving her behind. Chapter Eight - 2014 Nick Parsons 13 January Hey Nick 12.43 pm How r things going? 12.43 pm Ive called u a few times but I guess uve been busy 12.43 pm Its not anywhere near as fun here as used to be 12. 44 pm But Im happy u have a pretty neat arrangement there 12. 44 pm Still it wouldnt hurt to hear from u personally 12. 45 pm Looks like ur busy now as well. Ill message later 12. 49 pm 17 January Hey R u up? 2.02 pm We should start messaging around this time again 2.02 pm I suppose u dont use ur phone much now 2.07 pm 30 January It’ll be your birthday tomorrow!! Im going to try calling again 1.19 am 31 January Happy Birthday Nick 12.00 am I hope you are blessed with everything you need in life 12.00 am Ill be hosting a party for you here 12.00 am Lame I know but everyone’s coming and I hope you pick up my call this time 12.00 pm Thanks a lot for the wishes Emily 2.02 am Ur online!? Yay! Finally we get to talk 2.02 am I didnt think ud be awake at this time 2.05 am Of course I am U and I were always up chatting 2.05 am We can do it again now  2.05 am So tell me all about what its like there. I wanna know everything 2.06 am Id love to but cant right now coz I have to be up early 2.09 am Oh 2.10 am u could chat for a bit ;) 2.11 am I know Id like to 2.12 am Looks like Ill be talking to you later then 2.18 am 1 February the party was nowhere near the one u threw for me 5.34 pm It wouldve been nice to have spoken to u longer than I did 5.35 pm exactly a year ago u and I had been at the hospital 5.36 pm Probably isnt possible to run into u now 5.37 pm Sorry had to make that joke 5.37 pm How are you? I haven’t gotten to know for a while now 5.38 pm Can you please find sometime to talk 5.38 pm We talked constantly for a year everyday 5.39 pm I know Id still love that 5.41 pm 20 February Hi Emily. Hows ur mother? 1.42 pm I heard she wasn’t well 1.42 pm She’s fine. Low blood pressure 1.43 pm But she’ll be okay within the week 1.43 pm That’s a relief 1.43 pm I was told she was in the hospital and doctors were concerned 1.43 pm No its nothing like that 1.44 pm Who told you? 1.44 pm Alicia. Looks like she exaggerated it a bit 1.45 pm She got u msging me least1.45 pm Well ur moms fine thats what matters 1.46 pm Ill give her a call 1.46 pm Shed like that 1.46 pm BTW since when hav u been talking to Alicia? 1.46 pm We msg each other 1.47 pm U could reply to me too u know 1.47 pm Or pick up when I call 1.47 pm Sorry but I gotta go 1.48 pm Busy, Ill call ur mom now 1.48 pm Right 1.49 pm What is wrong with me? I pushed him away, thinking it would be best but now that I reflect upon it, I’m not sure if I was thinking it was best for him or for me. If he’s happy there then I should be for him. The choice I made was meant to be for his sake. I have no right to be sad. I just miss him. I ache to hear his voice again, see the smile he wore all the time. I know that I love him. I want to be with him but won’t. What is wrong with me? “Of course, I’ll be coming”, I tell Emily. “So I will get to see you? Carl and Kady getting married, honestly, I never thought I’d see that day. They make a very good couple, though.” “Yes they do, I’ll see you at the wedding”, I say, not wanting to get into talking to her for long. “Oh, do you want to meet before that?” “I don’t think I could”, I lie, “We’ll talk at the wedding.” “I hope so”, she says in a noticeably longing voice, I hang up immediately. I can’t afford to let the slightest temptation strike me. I should have declined the wedding invitation. Stacy Keane All the pics turnd out great! Emily Smith Yeah, the photographer was great Stacy Keane I meant you guys look great. I love the pic of u and Nick Emily Smith Its the only one we took together Stacy Keane Whats up with u guys? He doesn’t say much about it when I talk to him Emily Smith You’d know more than me, we barely spoke at the wedding. And he doesn’t talk to me generally I don’t think I could explain it all on facebook Stacy Keane Work it out. Honestly he’s a guy I wouldn’t want to get rid of even if I could I don’t know what happened between u two but I know that u miss him Emily Smith I do Emily Smith 2 May Hey thanks for spending time with my folks. It means a lot to them 7.35 pm You and I may barely talk anymore but I still want to see them 7.35 pm Plus Im helping Michael get out there 7.35 pm Yeah he told me. U don’t need to 7.36 pm I wanted to. Hes my friend too you know 7.36 pm I heard you visited a couple days ago 7.37 pm That was a very short stay 7.37 pm gtg. Ttyl 7.38 pm 11 June Happy Birthday 11.50 pm I hope u have a wonderful time 11.50 pm Youre ten minutes early on that 11.50 pm I thought Id beat the competition 11.50 pm Anyway have fun 11.50 pm Is that it? 11.51 pm What else do u want me to say? 11.51 pm Something! 11.51 pm We stayed up all night talking about the most random things 11.51 pm If nothing else. Could u at least give me my birthday present 11.54 pm What do u want? 11.56 pm Ill be calling u now. I need u to pick 11.56 pm Actually have some work to do 11.57 pm Please, Nick 11.57 pm Okay 11.58 pm The phone rings as I take a deep breath and pick it up. “Hi”, says Emily. “It’s good to hear your voice.” “We spoke at the wedding.” “Did we? Because I remember you smiling for a picture and disappearing.” “You must have gotten busy to notice me.” “I was busy looking for you. I don’t want to avoid talking about what’s bothering you”, she gets to the point as I had feared. “You’ve been in touch with everyone except for me.” “We’re talking now, aren’t we?” I try to maintain the facade. “Nick, I’m sorry about everything. You’re my best friend, I want you in my life.” “Want to...” I mutter to myself, “Right... Look, Emily, you’ve got it wrong, there’s no problem. I’ll talk to you later. Happy Birthday, again.” “Nick-“ I hang up before she says further, then throw myself on the bed, closing my eyes in gloom yet all it does is make her face clearer to me. I receive another message. 12 June I miss you 12.00 am My hands tremble to write the same words back but I don’t let myself go there. Instead, I stuff my head in the pillow and try to go to sleep, as I do almost every night. Dear, Mom I can’t believe you felt the need to write a letter to me. It’s very sweet of you to care about Emily so much. We had a sort of disagreement, which is why we weren’t talking much. She’s still my friend, but I’m just not sure how we can back to how we were. If it means that much to you then yes I will try to stay in touch with her. Of course I’ve missed her but it’s pretty complicated. Take care of Dad and Mikey. Nick Emily Smith Hey Stacy You’ll be glad to know that Nick and I have been talking again. It’s not exactly like before but it’s a start. I have a feeling his mom might have something do with it, maybe I slipped in a bit too much the last time I visited her He’s doing really well where he is. So it wasn’t a totally bad decision to move. I keep pondering over visiting him but I’m not sure how he’d take it I just don’t want us to stop talking again, it’s like I need to or things won’t make sense 14 August So what do you think? 11. 33 pm That its been way overdue 11.33 pm Im happy ur finlly going for it 11.33 pm Its all thanks to u 11.34 pm u were the one who made me want to go for it 11.34 pm Better start working on ur grammar now that ur going to be an author 11.34 pm Ill be visiting soon, do u want to meet up? 11.35 pm U havnt informed me of ur visits before 11.35 pm I guess I feel a reason to this time 11.36 pm Besides I have some work at the office in New York 11.36 pm Probably to be made Partner 11.37 pm What? 11.37 pm Yeah, act surprised 11.37 pm How do u know? 11.37 pm Did u convince them? 11.38 pm I cant belive u did that 11.39 pm Why wouldn’t I? 11.39 pm Its unethical and its u 11.40 pm And its u... I don’t care if its unethical or illegal 11.40 pm Thank u. Do me a favour 11.41 pm Resign by the time I get there so we can both be happy 11.42 pm Haha sure 11.42 pm 1 September So when r u going to be arriving? 2.43 pm Within the week 2.43 pm Im just really excited to see u again 2.44 pm Then why dont u visit? 2.44 pm Id have to catch a flight and well... 2.44 pm Guess u still havnt met the person who could make u jump on one without thinking 2.45 pm I dont know about that 2.45 pm I thought u did but I was wrong 2.45 pm Nick, is there something you want to tell me? 2.45 pm Doesnt seem like any point to be honest 2.47 pm Is there something you want me to say? 2.47 pm Its not something I can make u say 2.47 pm Maybe Ive tried too many times 2.47 pm Anyway Ill see u later 2.48 pm I know what he was getting at. He still wants to look beyond our friendship. I wanted to tell him that I do too, but it’s not a conversation to have on the phone. I want to see him to talk about what we mean to each other. I can tell he hasn’t given up on his ‘Her’ dream, if only I could fulfil that for him. I’ve suppressed my aspirations to forget all rationality and let the moment explain everything, for nothing to be said and everything understood. If I only knew how to let those feelings out. I sit in Nick’s old office, this room’s been left empty for a year. I gave it my all to get him the partner position, hopefully he returns. Still, it’s not easy waiting. Either way, this office will be torn down so I better make sure there’s nothing of his left here. Everything is empty except for the top drawer, it’s his laptop, he left it back. I plug it to the charger and turn it on, remembering the folder he had with pictures of us. I leaf through fondly as the memories return, a smile forming on my face when I see the videos of our time in Oman. We look so young, that effervescent charm of his captures me all these years later, it always has. I spend the next hour reliving it all. The last folder contains pictures of Nick and I hugging Alicia, our eyes full of happiness, it’s like a family photo, makes me wonder if the future could have looked like this. Another small icon gains my attention. A video file. Curious, I open it. A recording begins with the spot where I sit vacated, he must have accidentally recorded this. Disappointed, I bend down to unplug the charger. “Hi, Emily...” I hear his voice, I jump up to face the door, no one’s there. My eyes turn towards the laptop screen, there he is... Nick. “I’m not really sure what I’m going for here... actually, I do, I’m just not sure how to tell you. Here I am, in an office of all places, ready to tell you how I feel about you”, I drop down on the seat, hypnotized. “Emily, I’ve known you for years and you might think that I feel this way because of that but it’s the opposite. I knew it then, I knew it as soon as I saw you for the first time, that walking into that bookshop was the best decision I ever made. I knew that bothering you on that plane was the right thing to do. I knew this without knowing why, but now I do.” His face shines with emotion, eyebrows furrowed, that smile remaining. He holds up the letter in his hand, the one I had written to him. “This is why I know, that you feel the same way that I have for years now. That, you wanted to say the things that I am right now, that, you love me, like I love you.” The tears begin falling while I do nothing to stop them. He says it all and more. “Of course I do, why wouldn’t I? How can I not? There hasn’t been a single day, a single hour, a single minute that I haven’t thought of you since we met. I would walk out of my house hoping to see you on the street, I’d sit in a plane and expect you to be in the next seat, I’d pick up books hoping you’d interrupt me. I knew all this but didn’t know how to say it, but it’s so easy now, I love you, Emily. I love everything about you, I love how smart you make a stupid guy like me feel, I love how you call me charming even though I force you to say it, I love how you always text me at the same time of day or night, I love how you like to talk to the most random of people and treat them like family, I love how you never say no to anyone who asks you for anything, I love how big of a nerd you are, I love how you can make a story out of everything. I love you when I’m bored, I love you when I’m sleepy, I couldn’t hate you without loving you. It’s so stupid but it makes sense.” I laugh as I cry, it is stupid but it does make sense. “I want to tell you all this but it’s not why I want to. I realize why I can’t keep you out of my life. It’s because I need you, you have to be in my life for it to make sense, and that’s exactly what I need from you, too. That, you couldn’t go on without me like I couldn’t without you, I don’t want an elaborate declaration of love, I don’t want any grand gestures, all I need is for you to need me. I would drop everything in the world for you, I know that, I just hope you feel the same way.” He laughs embarrassedly after a small pause. “I really am out of my mind, saying all this in the office I’ve just resigned from, I don’t think I’ll even show this to you, we’ll be meeting tonight. You’ve just asked me if I was serious in asking you out, well, this might be the first time I ever have been. So, this is me, signing off with everything I feel, I hope by the end of this day, there’s nothing more to be said. I know I can’t wait, god knows, we’ve waited long enough.” He extends his hand forwards, I reach out to the do the same, the recording ends, my hand remains out there, hoping to feel his. I touch the screen, eyes not giving any indication to stop the flow of the tears that fall. What I feel can’t be described in any form of words, but I know for sure, this is what I’ve always wanted, such sheer lunacy, I understand it now. I let myself break down. He always loved me for whoever I was even when I didn’t. I couldn’t see past myself but he always could. Every single step of my life I’ve held myself back, never willing to get hurt but in the process I hurt him the most. I’ve been selfish all these years, placing my feelings before his, still he crept into my heart as only he could, still, he loves me. He was my shining light, my inspiration, my silver lining. All he ever wanted in return was for me to acknowledge what I knew I felt but was too scared to admit. I need him. I always have. I have to tell him, I can’t waste another moment. I rush back home. I pick up the phone, my heart pounding, the dial tone cracks and dies, I try again with the same result. Frustrated, I send him a text to call me but it doesn’t reach him either. I call again, another dead call. The sky above gives me the reason, it’s the expected storm jamming all the lines, it’s never simple. I’m not giving up, there’s no way. “In conclusion, the lines go up, so, I’m happy”, I point towards the graph, dismissing the meeting. I step out of my office to have the receptionist approach me. “Sir, you have a call.” “Me, you sure?” I ask. I take the phone but only hear a few crackles, “Hello?” The phone splutters incoherently, I faintly hear a voice saying my name, which is when the line goes clear. “Nick...” I hear her voice, as always my heart begins to pulse. “Emily? Hello...” “Nick...” “I can’t hear you, is everything okay?” “Nick... I need you”, the line dies as soon as I hear those words, I hold onto the phone like a lifeline, there was no mistaking it, she said it. Those three words. “Emily? Hello? Emily!” I almost yell in the receiver. “The network’s jammed”, the receptionist tells me, I hear her as if standing far away, all that echoes in my head is Emily’s voice. “She needs me”, I say out loud and bolt out of there. I have to see her, I said I would drop everything for her and I meant it. My cell phone rings, I pick up instantly. “Emily!” “No, it’s me?” “Mikey, what’s going on?” “Emily called me saying she needs to talk to you. I think it’s time, you’ve waited long enough.” “I know.” “Then why are you still talking to me? By the way, she introduced me to her friend Melanie, I think there might be something there-“ “Yeah, great, see you.” I hang up, for a second I consider calling Emily, but the impulsive person in me does otherwise, it’s not the time to go with it, I’m going for her. The call doesn’t dial again, it’ll be days before I can talk to him again. What am I thinking? I can’t wait that long, I have to see him. He’s a plane ride away, not one ounce of fear strikes me, it’s gone for good now. I’m not afraid anymore. I race out of the apartment, off to the airport. I head inside and approach the ticket counter. “I’m sorry, Madam, but there are no flights available. There’s been a plane crash, all flights have been cancelled.” “Oh my, I’m so sorry to hear that.” I decide on calling Nick again, only to find the same negative reception. I call on his office number and luckily am able to connect. “Hello, can I speak to Nick Parsons?” “Mr. Parsons? He’s in New York.” “What?” “Yes, why don’t you try his personal number?” My hands tremble as I keep trying, he has to be fine, there’s no way he was... I won’t even think about it. I dial and re-dial to hear the slightest trace of his voice, beside me, the counter person brings a list in her hand. “Names of persons who purchased tickets for the flight”, she announces, I listen absently as one by one every name evokes a tearful response from the gatherers around me, I keep pressing the call button. “...Parsons...” I drop the phone as my body freezes, my brain goes numb in disbelief. There must have been a mistake, I snatch the list out of her hands and read it myself, she had to have said it wrong, but there it was, his name written clearly. Just like it rains outside, my tears drench the paper in my hand as I fall to the ground. He needed me like I needed him, but he’s gone now and I’ll never get him back. Epilogue - 2014 - Epilogue – Our Emily returned to her apartment, hours spent walking in the downpour of rain. She dripped from head to foot but it didn’t seem to bother her. In fact, nothing did. It was painfully obvious what was on her mind. The love of her life had been snatched away. Life, it seemed, continued to play its cruel game on her. He had always been like a mirage, always in sight yet never able to reach. For the moment, she seemed too numb to feel much of anything. The knob on the door turned without a key but Emily was perhaps still too sad to notice. What she did notice, however, was that she was not alone in her apartment, someone else sat right at the center, on the bed under the open sky. Someone whose presence made her almost faint in shock and relief. The numbness subsided, and the tears flowed once more. There he was, he was here. Nick. No more a mirage, as real as he could be. Of course, what Emily did not know was that he had already been in New York when she had made that fateful call, having arrived earlier that week. Nick looked deeply at her, perhaps not wanting to let her out of his sight any longer, they had had enough partings for a lifetime. Through all the time they had spent together and apart, the promises they had kept always remained, silently understood. That boyhood promise of his had never been lost on him, the first night they had met, when she had granted him permission to enter her home if he had a good reason. There could be no better. As their eyes met, they knew what the other was thinking. Years spent sharing everything about their lives, from careers to families, lovers to spouses, passions to expectations, they knew it all. Nick smiled, unlike the way he was so well known for, this smile was full of love, of wishes come true. Emily returned his gaze with a smile of her own, equal in sentiment, full of contentment. As the clouds above parted and the room was bathed in the glorious sunlight, another one of those beautiful moments they loved to share came to. And as Nick and Emily let themselves be entranced in that wonderful moment, they knew. That after thirteen years, finally, there was nothing more to be said.


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