Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Chapter Three – Unfinished

The apartment was nearly empty.

John carefully stacked the numerous poly boxes on top of each other inside the bigger cardboard box which had been reinforced with packaging tape. Every window in the apartment was open, allowing the sun light in. A music CD player was running in one side of the house, two tiny black speakers unleashing the full musical impact of Josh Groban’s rendition of the Prayer. Seth was gathering the dvds and stuffing them into a black garbage bag. The bag had a large strip of brown masking tape upon which were written the words DVD MOVIES. Elaine was wearing a pair of rubber gloves and boots. In one hand, she held a bucket that was filled with the various toiletries and other bottles from the bathroom. In the other, she was gingerly holding a wet plastic bag that she had labeled THROW AWAY. Kimberly was outside with Jenny, setting up a small table and preparing some glasses of raspberry ice tea, and tuna sandwiches, for those who found the work making them hungry.

Gerald was in the bed room, still packing his more personal affects together, when Patricia knocked on his door.

“Hey,” he smiled at her and tried to maintain it, but it was clear that he wasn’t really that happy. It was clear that he felt torn about everything that was happening. Part of him did not want was was happening. But part of him knew it had to be done.

“Hey,” she raised both eyebrows upon seeing his half-hearted smile. She walked into the room, and sat down beside him, “We’ve discussed this.”

“I know,” he sighed, “Doesn’t make it easier.”

“No one ever said it would be,” Patricia admitted. Gerald reached up and touched her chin. He looked at her face and wished so much he could lean forward and kiss her. But he knew he couldn’t. Or rather, he shouldn’t.

“I am sure everything will work out for the best in due time,” she told him and took his hand into hers. She held his hand with both of her hands and brought it to her face. Gerald cupped her cheek and felt his eyes begin to grow misty.

“Don’t,” she told him, “Don’t or else we both will.”

It has been a few months since that fated day in the Coffebar Café when Patricia and Gerald (and in some ways, Kimberly, Elaine, Seth, John and Jenny) first met. From the odd starts and sudden curves that the two faced, things came to a much calmer pacing of events when the two found themselves finding one another once again in a small indie-film friendly café called Cinekape. There, the two discovered how much more complex and pronounced their feelings for one another truly were. And in the many months that followed, the two took their time to get to know each other. The two remained honest to one another, never hiding behind any pretenses or artificial expressions of happiness or interest. They promised to be who they were. And they promised to permit the other to be who they wanted to be.

And for many many months that followed, things worked out. Not perfectly, of course, for there were no such things as perfect relationships between two people; but they were wonderful months that were filled with true understanding, maintained commitments and honest emotional truth.

“I just cannot help but feel frustrated… why do I have to leave?” Gerald sighed as he spoke, unable to remain silent about his emotions, and in many ways it was something that Patricia always appreciated about Gerald. There was a clarity that he gave. Whereas in some relationships, there would be some unspoken game of guess how the other was feeling, Gerald did away with such pretenses and honestly spoke how he felt.

“You know you have to,” Patricia told him and sighed, “And you know I will not stand in the way of your dreams.” Patricia held him tighter and tried to keep from crying. She knew he knew how much she wanted him to stay. And she knew how much she was afraid of losing him, just as he was afraid of losing her, but she wanted him to reach for his dreams. And she wanted him to succeed. “You know you want to.”

“Funny how the world works out,” he muttered softly, “You got couples all over the world who can’t wait for a chance to break up and see other people. And they find all these hundreds of ways to complicate the lives of other people. Then you got people like us who have found one another amidst a sea of dissatisfied faces and players and abusers… and we have to.. have to-“

“Shh,” she held him closer and shushed him to be quiet, “We have discussed this already, Gerald. We know what this conversation is leading to. We know in the end, it boils down to you chasing after those dreams you have long hoped to reach. Just as I have my own dreams.”

“We have each other,” Gerald repeated, recalling what they always told one another, “We will not lose one another. So long as we choose not to.”

The two fell silent. They sat on the bed, Patricia leaning on Gerald’ side as he wrapped one arm around her shoulder and held her hands with his other hand. Gerald sighed and tried to relax. Patricia rubbed her hand against his chest, as if hoping to sooth his heart.

“I’m scared,” he told her.

“I’m scared too,” she admitted, “To be honest, I have always been scared. You have this effect on me, Gerald. You made me feel happy. Too happy. And it scares me.”

“I know what you mean,” Gerald told Patricia as she ran his hands through her hair, “This.. all this feels so new. So different. So comfortable. Yet frighteningly too comfortable. It feels like… everything fits. Like everything is how it was supposed to happen.”

Patricia fell silent. Gerald could almost sense her thoughts. * Everything other than this trip you are taking. This trip to study in the United States. * Patricia looked up at Gerald and saw him frowning. She ran her hands on his face, whispering at him to stop frowning. To not feel that bad about things. To accept that there are things we have to accept and embrace. And there are things we have to do, or else we will live the rest of our lives regretting not doing so.

“What if we only have one chance at this,” Gerald suddenly spoke up, voicing out a fear he had long denied to exist, “What if we’re giving up something that finally does make sense in this world? What if we’re being fools and giving that up?”

“Do you remember what you told me when you first admitted you we’re falling for me?” Patricia asked Gerald. Gerald remained silent. Though he remembered what he said, he was not sure how to think that moment. All he knew was that he felt like he was taking too foolish a gamble. One that could cost them everything.

“I told you I that I needed to tell you something. I told you that I was skydiving. I felt like I was skydiving without a parachute.”

Patricia smiled when Gerald smiled at the memory. She held him closer, “You were falling.”

“Yeah,” he admitted to her again, “And I still find myself doing so every day.”

“Then we have nothing to fear,” she told him, “because we’ve been falling for months now and we never worried about what happens when we hit the ground. We just have to remind ourselves that ultimately, it is our choices to make. Our choices to decide how long we keep skydiving. How long we allow hold on to each other. And when we start jumping off planes again.”

Gerald smiled and began to cry. Patricia pressed her hands against his eyes and kissed his forehead, then wiped away the tears and looked at him straight in the eyes, “We’ve survived each other. How can the world be any worse a challenge?” He grinned, finding Patricia’s words true. Dealing with the world was far easier. One can always just ignore it. The environment giving you hell? Then move. The distance too large between lovers? Then travel. There was always a solution to dealing with the world.

And when it came to dealing with the heart. There was always a choice. Ultimately, everyone always has a choice.

Gerald looked through the many photographs of him and Patricia that they had taken and found himself still finding it hard to believe that they have known each other for such a short amount of time. She picked a photo of the two of them climbing trees and laughed as she looked at the picture, “I’m still wearing my lucky socks!”

“Check this one,” Gerald picked up a photo that had him in a mock shocked expression in a restaurant. Patricia took a few seconds to recognize it, “The one where the table next to us suddenly started talking about that old children’s show who had a host who looked like you!”

“Yeah,” Gerald was laughing and slid through the other photos until he found the series of photos of him and Patricia simply making fools of themselves in front of a camera. “This was at that coffee place. Remember the kids outside the window who were making fun of us, but we didn’t care. As far as we were concerned we were happy.”

Patricia lifted a picture and told Gerald, “I want to keep this.”

It was a picture of the two of them. It was taken while they were walking by one of Patricia’s friends. Gerald was walking with a backpack on his back. Patricia had a bag too, and they were both oblivious to the world around them.

A moment of silence crossed over them again. Gerald realized he had something he had to say. He gathered the pictures up, piled them on one side, then took Patricia’s hands into his.

“I know this sounds cliché and all that, but you do make me really wish I could be a better person. You make me wish I could have a better job. Have more time. Be more free. Afford more things to give you. Or to treat you out with. You’ve changed me in some ways. In many ways. And sometimes it scares me to know how much there were things about me that I used to be defiantly certain of as part of my identity. How there were things about me which I would never betray or give up for someone else. And now, these very things are things that I find myself at times wishing I could simply wake up and be rid off one day. I wish I was less complicated. For you,” Gerald held Patricia closer and kissed her cheek. Patricia felt her tears fall. Gerald leaned close and kissed her eyes, then wiped way the tears with his right hand. She looked at him, tried to smile, but instead wrapped her arms around him and simply held him tight.

“I can’t lose you, Patricia,” Gerald whispered to her, “But since I can’t take you with me, I promise you. When I can. I shall come back for you. To take you with me. Or if you rather, when that time comes, to stay with you.”

Patricia simply closed her eyes, held him tight and knew somehow, deep inside, Gerald already knew the answer. They held each other for a very long time. Long enough for the bright morning sunlight cast upon the windows to fade as the sun set and the moon rose to the sky. Long enough for John, Seth, Elaine, Kimberly and Jenny to big them good night and promise to come back tomorrow to help for the packing of everything else. Long enough for the cd player to finally run out of power as the batteries died, and the apartment fell silent save the sound of two hearts almost breaking.

And still.

It did not feel long enough.

But it was definitely not the last time they would ever find themselves taking another jump together. That , they knew absolutely, for certain.

- the end -

* *

Skydiving is a work of fiction.
But the inspiration behind it, and the love that fuelled its writing is definitely not.
This novel is dedicated to my Panda Bear, Isha,
my parents
and to God, who makes all things possible.

Word Count = 2,108
Previous Count = 48,133
Total Count = 50,241 of 50,000

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Gerald was out on the street, running down the sidewalk and hopping on to the first bus he saw that was bringing him back to the café where he first had met her. He wished John and the two others knew where he could find Patricia but then he remembered the only reason they knew her name was because he was yelling it out in his apartment the the day he met her.

As the bus made its long winding journey between the narrow streets and frustrating traffic, Gerald failed to realize how tired he was. His eyes narrowed into slits until he had fallen asleep and failed to realize he missed his stop. By the time he opened his eyes, he was way past the café and now closer to his old college alma mater which he had long ignored ever visiting, Quickly telling the driver to let him off, he hopped down on to the street and noticed how much the place had seemingly changed. What was once a school with the university mall on one side was now a long stretch of eateries and restaurants for the students to indulge in. Feeling still a tad sore from his long journey, Gerald cursed himself for having fallen asleep and checked the phone if by any chance she opted to call again. Unfortunately, there were no new calls, and the missed calls were only registered in his broken phone. And the broken phone, unfortunately, was left behind back at his apartment.

Feeling dejected and lost, Gerald sighed heavily at the evident disintegration of something that had barely begun. Just before meeting her, Gerald used to think being stuck with Jenna was the worst that one could endure to at least have a semblance of companionship in life. In some ways, he know began to think he was right to think that. For even as he realized how he had most likely blown away in chances with the one and only woman who seemed to actually get him and understand him the way he truly was, he did not even find himself considering going back to Jenna or find anyone else. It seemed she was who mattered to him now more than ever.

And he had lost her even before she had become part of his life.

Gerald walked down the long stretch of the road, ignoring the small herd-like gatherings of students that moved about in packs, as if to walk alone was to invite being devoured by higher batch students. He walked past the numerous groups of smoking teens, who shared stories of failed conquests, notable crushes and the latest gossip in regards to celebrities or sports controversies. He walked past the long lines of people that waited for a chance to use a pay phone, or the next FX shuttle, or the turn to purchase a ticket for the tram over head. He walked and he walked until he realized he was no longer among the vicinity of his old college alma mater and now deeper in the darker areas that most students shunned away from for their own safety.

And he found himself thinking, was that it? What that was the had finally come to? A point when he suddenly did not care for his own personal safety? A moment of ridiculous self-destructiveness for having failed in love? Has he not outgrown this pathetic attempt at gaining attention?

Gerald shook his head, realizing he was above this. He was past all this. He was someone better now. Someone more mature. And he did not see any point in treating his life as if it no longer ended because the chances of love had. After all, that was utter foolishness to believe. Love always had a chance. Love always remains there, waiting for someone to accept it into their homes. And maybe it did not work out with one person, one can never know when the other person comes along.

That was, after all, how it all began, was it not? Gerald with Jenna. The stranger in the café. The ape-faced muscle man and his botoxed big bosomed bride. Was not that first meeting in itself a moment Gerald everything was falling apart?

The grumble came quite suddenly, and Gerald looked around first, frightening it was some rabid dog or other strange pet that had the aims of mauling him, before he realized it was his own stomach. Rubbing his belly, Gerald realized that he had not gotten anything to eat for dinner, even with all the food that was gathered in the apartment. He reached down into his pockets to first check if his wallet and John’s phone were still there, then hailed down one of the public passenger jeepneys to take a ride towards the closest mall.

He was just hungry, Gerald decided, and he would feel much better once he had a chance to eat.

* *

Patricia entered the small café and thanked no one in particular for the dim lights the place had. Shaped like a lunch box, the rectangular café had three couches and five tables spread out in the room. At the central wall between the door and the bar, a large white screen was where the projection of an ongoing film showing fell upon. Patricia carefully maneuvered in the dark, until she found an empty table that contained a single nearly empty drink. Patricia sat down, assuming the previous customer had decided to leave and did not finish his drink.

She was wrong.

“Excuse me, this is our table,” the voice came and Patricia turned to see a heavily made-up drag queen looking at her with eyebrows held high. Not too far off, another woman, biologically female this time, tapped the gay guy’s shoulder and motioned with her eyes. Patricia shook her head and was on the act of apologizing as she stood when the drag queen suddenly pointed at her and asked, “Patricia!? You’re Patricia right?”

Patricia looked back at the drag queen and was taken a back.

“I know you?” she gasped and reached a hand out for a hand shake. Kimberly ignored her hand and leaned forwards, kissing the air close to Patricia’s left cheek, then the same to her right cheek.

“Oh my gosh, what are you doing here?” Kimberly asked Patricia and sat back down, motioning her to join him. Patricia noticed another girl sat on the other side of the table. It took Patricia a moment to remember her.

“Hot Cholocate, but served chilled, right?” the girl told Patricia.

“From the café,” Patricia began to realize, “You work there?” she asked the girl. The girl smiled and reached her had out towards Patricia, “We both do. I’m Jenny. This is Kimberly. You can join us.”

“You’re alone?” Kimberly inquired as Patricia hesitantly sat back down.

”Am I not supposed to be,” Patricia jokingly replied when Kimberly prodded more.

“What about the cute geeky guy, what’s his name, Gerry?”

“Gerald,” Jenny corrected him.

“Oh yes, Gerald. The guy who left his bag?”

Patricia felt silent, feeling for a brief moment the urge to let it out, but her will was stronger than the pain she felt. “We’re not exactly seeing each other.”

“You aren’t?” Kimberly seemed shocked.

“Kim, I think this is private. We shouldn’t-“ Jenny tried to dissuade her gay friend but Kimberly heard none of it.

“What happened? Did he cheat on you honey?”

Patricia looked at them both, “You know him?”

“Oh no,” Jenny smiled, “But I was there. When he first saw you. He was really staring at you. It was cute. I used to think that would be creepy or something you’d only see in the movies. But no, he was really staring at you.”

“You should have seen how nervous he was when you two first met,” Kimberly told Jenny and then faced Patricia. Kimberly slid a cigarette out of a bronze cigarette case which he kept inside his sling on bag. “He was totally falling all over himself over you. He was stuttering at times. He even tried to ask you out but ended up saying it just as you stepped out the door.”

Patricia smiled, thought there was a hint of bitter sweetness in it. She shrugged and tried to answer the earlier question, “I guess some guys just seem worth it at the start. Until you get to know them more.”

“Oh no.. he did cheat on you,” Kimberly shook his head, “And its been what.. three days?”

“It was strange though,” Patricia admitted, “At times it felt like more. Like week.. or a month already. There was this comfortableness about it. A clear understanding you could simply be yourself.”

“Ay,” Kimberly snapped his fingers and pulled out a lighter, “That would have been too good to be true. No one out there is who they claim to be anymore. If they aren’t in the closet, its’ because its too filled with skeletons, you hear?”

“Still,” Jenny sighed, “It is sad to hear it did not work out. I mean, what would I give to have some guy ask me out sometime.”

“Ariel,” Kimberly teased Jenny having noticed her choice of words reminded him of a song from the Disney musical, “Maybe if you would listen to me and try changing your ‘I am dressed to go to Church waredrobe,’ you’d have bigger chances and finding some guy.”

“But I like wearing this,” Jenny complained.

Patricia looked across the bar and tried to decide what she was really doing here meeting baristas whom seemed to know her more than she did them. She threw her gaze around and noticed how the film had ended and barely a couple of people even noticed. The director of the movie, a scrawny guy who stood by the bar, muttered half-hearted thank yous to the unresponsive couple and backed up his stuff.

“I guess, not everyone really finds what they want,” Patricia found herself muttered, as she looked around and noticed all the film-maker décor the café had. “You would have thought in a place like this, he’d be more noticed.”

“Who are you talking about?” Kimberly asked and Patricia turned to face him and smiled. Patricia shook her head and was about to explain how she was just day dreaming when a voice emerged in the darkness and caught her notice.

“Honey, stop that! There are people here!”

Patricia turned her head to see a lovely looking woman sitting at the table just behind theirs. Beside her, a bulky man who evidently lifted weights a lot continued to tickle her and try to steal kisses from her. The girl slapped him a few times, though her slaps seemed more of a play than an actual attempt to ward him away. The people at the counter realized how quiet the place was now that the film was over and decided to play some music. Strains of Damien Rice’s Amie began to play.

“Hi,” a third voice came and Patricia realized the two love birds had a third companion with them. The guy seemed to ooze over confidence. And his lips seemed to be locked in a smirk that may have seemed attractive during the early eighties. “Feel like hoping over to join us at this table?”

The strains of Palchelbel’s Canon in D Major suddenly played from somewhere at the muscular man’s side. Even with the music playing in the back ground, Particia found herself remembering Gerald mentioning it was his ring tone. Patricia stared in surprise as the ape-faced man pulled out his own cellular phone, brought it to his ear, then handed it to the over-confident man. “For you,” the muscle man shrugged, “Your neighbor.”

“Hey we’re having dinner here in Malate. This café just before you hit Starbucks. Just head here if you want to join us. I’m busy,” the over-confident man closed the phone and focused his attentions on Patricia again, “So, feel like joining us? More the merrier they say.”

“Uh, actually,” Patricia was not sure how to ask what she started to think was going on.

“We’d love to,” Kimberly answered and stood up, motioning Jenny and Patricia to follow. Over-confident John’s eyes opened wide as Kimberly sat down between him and Patricia and offered a long-nailed sequined hand towards him. Jenny stared at the table for a moment then asked, “Uh.. you’re the double espresso, no sugar, no cream and you’re the chicken salad with no dressing and a green tea frap.”

Seth and Elaine both suddenly recognized Jenny and laughter broke out as they suddenly easily became good friends. Amidst questions of what one was doing in a rival café (this is in Malate, our café was in Makati, so its okay), how much did the procedures cost (the botox cost a lot, with numerous injections before you complete the full compliment of sessions), John realized how small the world was when Kimberly realized who John was and revealed that he and John’s ex-girlfriend knew each other. Kimberly and Jenny introduced themselves but were too engrossed in the conversations to remember to introduce Patricia.

”What I don’t get is why do you have that ring tone as your ring tone?” John suddenly turned to Seth who brought out his phone and snickered, “It was meant to catch your boy off guard in case someone ever called me. You know, get whatshisname… Gerald to turn his head.”

And Patricia felt that moment the sudden urge to turn her head.

She stood up, just as the song hit its instrumental cues. The cellos sung their emotional cries as Patricia found herself rising from her seat. Gerald stepped into the café, looking around for a brief moment only to rest his gaze on the last person he thought he would see that night.

“Hey,” Gerald barely could speak.

“Hey,” Neither could Patricia.

Both felt their hearts expanding in their chest so much that it felt like they would burst. Patricia felt the tears come again and this time she found it was more than she could control. Gerald looked at her and saw the tears that threatened to fall. He reached up his hand, hoping to wipe them away, as he started to explain.

“Patricia, listen-“

“I know,” she told him and he stopped. He stared at her, amidst the feeble candle light and the strains of the cellos that seemed to blanket away any other possible sound in the room. He smiled now, and ran his right hand across her face to wipe away the tears that had finally fallen.

“I’m psychic,” she gasped as she cried and felt the warm touch of his hand on her cheek.

“I know,” he wanted to say so much. He felt the urge to finally admit so many things in his heart. In his head. So many confessions. So many feelings. So many admissions. But he couldn’t find the words. The courage. The strength to say them. Not when he had finally found her again. Not when she had finally found him again. Not when any he might say wrong could lead to him losing her again.

“Oh, I totally forgot, this is-” Kimberly remembered Patricia was with them and turned to introduce her when she noticed Patricia was no longer on the seat. Jenny gasped and found them standing and staring at each other’s eyes. Seth and Elaine could only hold each other tighter as they looked at them. John raised both eyebrows and actually nodded in approval, “Yep, the fruit cake is now a man.”

“I know I’m difficult some times to understand,” Patricia told Gerald deciding she had to at least explain some things, “I know I can be strange. I can be scared. Or scary. Or both at the same time. But I do hope you give me time to get used to all this. I am just not really used to all this.”

Gerald nodded and took into his hands her hands. He brought one hand to his lips and kissed it gently. He stared deep into her eyes and found the strength to speak. “It has only been a few days.”

She smiled. And nodded.


“Maybe even less... if you count by the hour.”

“Or more if you count the hours we were asleep,” Patricia teased.

The two broke into a laugh slowly realized many others were looking at them. Gerald bit on his lower lip and whispered, “I believe my friends are somewhere here.”
“I know,” Patricia told him and motioned to the table where John and the rest of the gang were watching them. Gerald looked at the table, then glanced back at Patricia in disbelief.

“Okay, now that really is like… spooky,” he told her, “You have got to warn me about these things. It really can transform a man into a cowering mess.”

“Trust me,” Patricia admitted, “I’m just as surprised as you are.”

“I guess we’ll get the hang of it, eh?”

“No rush,” Patricia told him and he offered her his arm. She wrapped her arm around it and the two walked towards the table, waving away the cheers and laughter than their new found friends felt the urge to give them. Patricia and Gerald sat down, their faces now aglow with smiles as the John ordered for some more drinks and food to be served while Kimberly, Jenny, Seth and Elaine continued to share stories about people they knew. Gerald and Patricia joined the stories, laughing along as they shared their own little anecdotes and jokes. And if any of them were to have glanced from beneath the table, they would have seen that Gerald and Patrica’s pinky fingers were locked together, as if not wanting to ever let go.

Word Count = 2,968
Previous Count = 45,165
Total Count = 48,133 of 50,000
Gerald had just arrived home as he walked back into his apartment and tried to remember if there was anything he had forgotten to do. Still riding high from the recent excitement and fun he had in his impromptu dinner with Patricia, Gerald found himself wondering if there was anything he had neglected that would ruin the happiness he was feeling that moment.

The answer came to him faster than he could say the word, cellular phone.

“Hey, you back home yet, fruit cake?” John’s voice hollered from outside the door. Gerald groaned out loud and before he realized it gave John the very sign that he was home. “Ah I heard that grunt, you fudge packer. Now open this door up or I am going to call your folks and remind them that they have a kid who is dying to step out of the closet.”

“John,” Gerald slid the door open but blocked it with his foot to keep it from opening up completely, “What are you… oh no..”

Outside, John carried with him two six-packs of beer. Behind him, Seth and Elaine carried with them a small pyrex container with pork barbeque and spaghetti. Seth also had a two liter bottle of soda under one arm.

“We bring gifts,” John explained and tried to shove the door open.

“What is going on here? Why are you doing this?” Gerald groaned in an evident show of disapproval, “I am tired. I just got home. And I am sleepy.”

“What, you do not want your neighbors to be friends?”

“Neighbors? Friends? John, we have lived beside one another for nearly four years now. Why on earth would I suddenly want to change that and become your friend?”

“I was not referring about myself, fruitness, but it is really nice to see how you fixate on me,” John sneered and the moment Gerald realized he meant Seth and Elaine, took advantage of his momentary shock to shove the door open.

“We just moved in,” Elaine told Gerald as Seth and John walked into the apartment and set the food down on the dining table. Elaine motioned towards a door further down the hallway, “There was a free room there for half what Seth and I used to spend. So we decided to take it before anyone else does. But since we moved in before having it refurnished, or arranging for our own stuff to be moved from our old home-”

“-You thought it would be better to have dinner here,” Gerald sighed, “Sure, come on in.”

Elaine gave a cheerful thank you as she walked in, her eyes scanning the place like an excited child who had just been given the keys to enter a mysterious castle. Seth was busy looking around the apartment as well, and the two began to remind Gerald of crime scene investigators searching for clues. “All you guys need now is that weird funky purple light.”

“What?” John asked, not catching the joke. John busied himself setting the food on the table and digging through the shelves for plates, spoons and forks. “I know the food we brought with us is not quite up to par with what you normally dine upon, banana boy, but hey, give us a break here. None of us work for such a high class company, you know.”

“I was not complaining-“ Gerald stopped himself, realizing the futility of arguing with John. To do so was like trying to convince a mob to behave… by speaking to them one at a time… in a different language.

“Ey, you have the complete DVD set of Band of Brothers!” Seth called out, “And the whole Miyazaki collection. Everything from My Neighbor Totoro to Nausicaa: Warriors of the Wind… nice.”

“Uh yeah, thanks” Gerald turned towards Seth, half expecting some punch line to come. But when none came, Gerald slowly began to wonder if he was being too paranoid about the three of them being here. Dark visions of him being tied up, grossly tortured, then mutilated by the ape-faced football guy, the botox bosom queen and his passive-aggressive gay bashing neighbor danced in his brain. He would probably cry out for help and only then learn that the walls were only thin when they wanted to be.


“What, what..” Gerald blinked a few times, surprised to hear someone utter his name while he was visualizing the brutal murder. His brain nearly took a full three seconds to register the voice’s owner. “Oh, yes. Elaine?”

“You really read a lot?” she asked, motioning to a bookshelf that was filled with various books of all sorts. There were novels, role playing game books, manuals, magazines and even books that fell across varied interests. An encyclopedia on angels was set beside a book on living a purpose driven life. Beside them was a copy of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and a novelization of the movie Alien. Then beneath them were books with names that ranged from Demon: the Fallen to Chronicles of the Black Spiral. “Honey look, he even has a copy of Clive Barker’s Imajica and Doctor John Gray’s Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. At least you are not one of those geeks horribly obsessed with comic books.”

Gerald opted not to answer. He bit his lip and shut his mouth and hoped no one would notice the eight plastic poly boxes that were set at one side of the room. All eight were filled with various comic books and trade papers backs.

“What is this?” Seth asked Gerald as he lifted up from a plastic green tube a strangely shaped semi-transparent object. It looked like a tiny golf-ball that was golden and translucent with numbers on each tiny triangular face.

“That would be a… twenty sided die. Not all dice came in six sides. That’s used during role playing games.”

“You role play?” Seth asked. Gerald knew he was to regret leading the conversation to one of his hobbies.

“Yes,” he replied, “Every weekend,” he added and mentally began scolding himself for even giving them more ammunition to use against him. Elaine looked at John and John shrugged, “Do I look like I know what he’s into?”

“I think it is cute,” Elaine smiled and made her way back to the table where John had set the food. Seth pulled out a few more of the strangely shaped dice and counted the sides. “A four sided. It looks like a pyramid. Come here, Elaine. Check it out. This one I think has twelve sides.”

“So what exactly do you role play as?” Elaine asked as she turned around and made to join Seth.

* I am going to regret this * Gerald told himself and took a deep breath before answering, “On some weekends, I play a vampire. If you’re familiar with Vampire: the Masquerade… well obviously you are not… hmm… Anne Rice. There you go, I play a vampire much like Louis in Interview with a Vampire. On other weeks I handle the game, with others playing superheroes. DC Universe. Superman. Wonderwoman. Green Arrow. That sort.”

“Whoa!” John looked at Elaine, “You mean you got girls in this thing?”

“Only for the superhero game. For the vampire thing, we are all guys,” Gerald explained, half surprised they were really interested in his hobby.

“Sounds kinky,” Seth commented as he handed Elaine the pyramid shaped die.

“I don’t know honey, I think its cute,” Elaine muttered.

* Kinky? Cute? * Gerald found himself realizing what they understood role playing to mean. “No.. not that kind of role playing. We don’t do it… uh… um… in bed…”

“Okay, that is just too much information man,” John teased Gerald and stood from the table, “Should I move the food to somewhere else you haven’t laid upon with your little orgy buddies while dressed as suck happy vampires?”

“I give up!” Gerald grabbed his hair and wanted to scream. All three began laughing and John raised both hands towards Gerald and playfully clamped them down on Gerald’s head and shook it.

“Ah, you are too easy!” John laughed as Elaine and Seth gathered by the table.
“I normally play a more political type of character,” Elaine admitted as she sat down and began placing some spaghetti on a plate. “Seth here tends to prefer to be a character who shakes things up. You know, an agitator?”

Gerald looked at the two, uncertain if they were pulling his leg again.

“We game too,” John admitted and began walking back to the table, leaving a confused and stunned Gerald who still tried to make sense of things behind. John sat down and began opening one of the cans of beer from the six pack they brought. Gerald inched closer, his eyes shifting between the three of them as he waited for the punch line.

“Seth here got us to try this game called Werewolf a few years back when he was still in the United States. We used to play through the internet, meeting up in chat rooms on specific dates. Elaine and Seth actually met thanks to that game,” John explained.

“Someone is obviously not telling the whole story,” Seth teased and John rolled his eyes, “Okay… okay.. Elaine and I back there were going out.” Elaine laughed as she placed the plate of food she had served onto Seth’s side. She began preparing another plate as she spoke, “John and I were together for two months. Only we weren’t really attracted to one another. It was more.. convenient than anything.”

“What?” John gasped out in false exasperation, “I was convenient!? You make it sound so naughty!”

“John,” Seth jokingly threatened him, “Watch it!”

The three began laughing and Gerald shook his head, “Ah, now I can’t tell when you guys are teasing me or not. This isn’t true is it. You and Elaine were never an item were you?”

“What, you saying I don’t have what it takes to score-“

“Score?” Seth interrupted John.

”Ak… I mean… I mean to be going out with a delectable piece of womanhood such as Elaine here?”

“Why did your choice of words make me feel more like a body part?” Elaine teased and placed down a second set plate on the empty space. Gerald presumed it was meant for him. He walked up to them, and still struggled to discern truth from fiction.

“Well, going back,” John tried to maintain control of the conversation. Slowly, it seemed the target of the jokes was to become John instead. And that, Gerald frankly would have preferred to have happen. “So Seth used to hold these games online right? He would go set up these little announcements in what used to be called bulletin boards.”

”Yeah, the good ole BBS systems of the past. Back then, the internet was not as user friendly as it is now. One had to know how to type certain codes and stuff. More like how some chat providers now work. Websites were few and far in between,” Seth added and turned to thank Elaine for the food. The two shared a silent moment smiling at each other.

“Okay, so you guys all happened to just one time go online?” Gerald tried to help.

“No, I was in the process of convincing Elaine to try gaming when we both noticed an invitation posted in one BBS by someone who wanted to run a werewolf game set in the Philippines,” John explained.

“Manila by Midnight: Garou,” Seth proudly proclaimed, “It was a sucky name but for its time it did catch on quite quickly. Had seven players hook up immediately. Two of them happened to be John and Elaine.”

“So you three all finally admit to being geeks,” Gerald spoke before realizing what he just said. The three turned to face him, their faces devoid of any expression other than shock. Gerald offered a smile and barely found the voice to utter, “…Joke?”

“God, you are right, he is easy,” Elaine laughed and stood up from her seat. She slapped Gerald’s shoulder as she walked passed him and headed for the refrigerator. “Anyone want some ice?”

The strains of music suddenly filled the air. All four looked at one another before collectively turning to face the refrigerator. From somewhere beneath it, sung Pachelbel’s Canon in D Major.

“My phone?” Gerald stared at Elaine, confused, and reached for his pocket. The pocket was empty. “But I just got it last night…”

“I recall kicking something by accident as I approached the table,” Seth confessed, “But I didn’t see what it was so I assumed it wasn’t anything important.”

“You kicked my phone?!?!” Gerald gasped aloud.

“How sure are you it was the phone I kicked?” Seth countered. “And what idiot keeps his phone on the floor?” Gerald stuffed his hands into his pockets and pulled them inside-out. The pocket where he kept his phone had a tear in it.

“You’re lucky it fell in your room,” Elaine reminded him, “Imagine if it fell out while you were commuting back from work!”

“Can someone please shut the phone up?” John groaned and tried to pretend he could not hear it, “I think I have heard that classical piece enough times a sane mind can take in a single day.”

Elaine immediately bent so gauge the narrowness of the refrigerator and the floor. Seth and John stood up and approached the refrigerator. “I think we can both lift it,” Seth told John while John gave his own suggestion, “You can lean it back, towards the wall, with enough time to reach in…”

“Guys guys guys,” Gerald called out to them, failing to notice Elaine walking towards the drawer cabinets in the kitchen, “Trust me, moving the refrigerator is the last thing you can do. The thing is old. And heavy.”

“I think we can do it,” Seth told John, “Come on… just help me out.”

“No no no we just need to prop it on one side for a few seconds. I can fish it out real fast,” John muttered.

And rather than participate in the argument, Elaine sat down in front of the refrigerator, slid the long wooden spatula she had found in the kitchen drawer, and fished the phone out.

The three men stared at Elaine as she stood up, dusted the phone clean, and looked at the numbers on the screen. The phone did not recognize the caller.

“I thought of that too,” John quickly added, “But I did not want to steal Elaine’s thunder.”

Handling the phone to Gerald, Gerald flipped the phone on in time to hear the caller put the phone down. “Hello-“ Gerald still found himself saying even if he knew full well the caller had already replaced the phone on the cradle. He tried to click on the call back functions and found the phone instead freezing up. Shutting it quickly, Gerald softly cursed as he started the phone again and hoped for the best.

“What’s wrong?” Elaine asked.

”Probably broke something,” Gerald sighed, “Won’t redial.”

“Maybe when it fell,” Seth suggested. Gerald nodded without looking at them, “Yeah,” his voice came with irritation evidently there, “Can’t be helped. It happens.”

The phone rang again and this time, Gerald quickly answered the phone. “Hello?” he asked and waited for an answer, “Hello?”

“The microphone?” Elaine looked at John.

“Most likely, the mic,” John agreed.

The three looked back to see Gerald scratching his head as he fiddled with the phone more. “The caller.. well, who ever called, I couldn’t hear anything.”

“The speaker then,” Seth suggested.

“Oh this is crazy,” John shook his head, “If the mic, the speakers, and the damn recall button ain’t working, then stop using that phone. Here.” John slid out his own cellular phone from his pocket and shut it down. He slid the battery cover off and slid the sim card of his own phone out of its place. Handling the phone to Gerald, he told him, “Drop it and you’re buying me one of those video camera – mp3 player cellular phones, you got it?”

Gerald smiled, inserted his own sim card into the slot, restarted the phone and hoped for the best.

The phone rang. And Gerald lifted the still booting cellular phone to his head. “Hello?” he anxiously called out before realizing it was the land line that was ringing.

Elaine and Seth rushed to their feet, ran to the land line and lifted it from the cradle. “Hi!” Elaine replied and motioned everyone else to shush quiet. Gerald quickly made his way to the phone.

“Hi,” Patricia responded, a tad surprised to hear a female voice in the other line. “Can I speak to Gerald?”

“Sure,” Patricia heard the woman respond only to giggle away from the receiver and mumble, “Honey, stop that!”

Elaine slapped Seth’s hands and walked past him to give the phone to Gerald. Gerald motioned the three to move away, “Quiet please?” he told them, not realizing on the other end Patricia was starting to see whole different picture. “Hello?”

“Gerald?” Patricia replied, her voice starting to shake. She felt something unexpected welling inside of her. She felt jealous. She felt angry. But she did not know why she felt all these feelings. She barely knew Gerald. It was not like they were dating. Or seeing one another. “Uh.. are you busy?”

“Not really,” Gerald explained and realized the others were there, “I just have some.. uh… some friends over.” Gerald decided to call them friends was a simpler thing to do. He did not really feel like explaining they were more strangers who just invited themselves over. Patricia, unfortunately, saw the reason for the hesitation differently.

“Oh, I see, they’re just friends,” Patricia repeated Gerald’s words then fell silent.

“What?” Gerald asked, suddenly noticing the shift in her words, “What’s wrong?”

“Nothing,” Patricia told him, “I guess I just wanted to say hi. Anyway, I won’t take your time with them from you. Catch you again some other time?”

“What? Wait.. Are you saying goodbye? What’s going on here?” Gerald asked Patricia, suddenly feeling paranoid that he had done something wrong. He could sense Patricia was hurting. Was angry. But he could not define what caused it.

“I have to go,” Patricia told him and put the phone down.

Gerald was too shocked to move. His hand still gripped the phone. His feet were still planted in place. The three visitors stared at him, wondering what had happened. It was John who approached him, carefully keeping his distance, and only spoke when he realized that Gerald was not speaking to anyone.

“Hey, fruit cake. You okay?”

“Not now, John,” Gerald replied without moving. He closed his eyes and tried to say things as calmly as possible. “Maybe it is time for you guys to go. For now. I think I need to be alone.”

Elaine and Seth looked at each other. John backed up to the two and motioned with his head. The three quietly made for the door.

“John, your phone-“

“Its all right, hommie, you can hold on to it for now. I’ll be just next door if you need anything,” John told him and the three quietly made their way out. Gerald finally sighed, and allowed his anger and pain to explode outwards. He slammed the phone back on to its cradle, then dove into the nearby couch to scream against the mattresses.

He was angry. He felt like he and Patricia had broken up. And the funny thing was, for both, he did not know why.

* *

Patricia hated how stupid she felt. She hated how she let some guy she barely new start to get on her nerves so much. And now, she hated how he thought she could be so easily fooled. She did not cry, however. No, Patricia was not the type who would cry when faced with such a slap in the face. Instead, she faced it head on. She stood against the tide and proudly kept her chin up. Only when things had simmered down would she allow it to affect her. Only when she was alone and it was in the dead of the night.

But for now, the urge to do something grumbled within her. Something to do. Something to break this moment of just starting at the phone and wondering what to do. She remembered the two calls she made to him, both of which were unanswered. Then the third one on her land line, which some woman who called him honey received for him. He was a bastard. A two-timing son of a bitch who thought she’d be easy. * Boy was he wrong, * she found herself thinking. If only she knew how wrong she too was.

She stood up, grabbed her own cellular phone and wallet, and decided to step outside and grab something to eat. Ice cream perhaps. Or some cake. Anything to drown the sorrows in.

* *

Gerald was still struggling to make sense of what had happened. He knew there was a misunderstanding somewhere but he did not know how it all began. So he tried working on things in reverse the way he would have in a role playing game. He considered the ingredients of the confusion and decided the two missed calls were part of it. As was perhaps the sudden mention of him having visitors, something which he remembered telling Patricia was an uncommon practice on his part.

Then it struck him. Elaine.
She probably was surprised to hear Elaine answer the phone.

Gerald tried imagining how it would sound if he was the person on the other end of the line. The two attempts to call, assumingly with no response. There was the off – chance she could hear him earlier when he picked up the phone. But that did not seem as relevant to what was happening. Elaine answered. What did she say back then?


“Quiet please.”

“Not really, I just have some.. uh… some friends over.”

What triggered the confusion. Surely, it could not have just been the hesitation in his words? Gerald struggled to remember if he failed to bear in mind anything in particular. If he failed to pick up any particular phrase.

Head pounding from frustration, Gerald was on the verge of giving up when he decided to break the silence and turn on the television. The commercial showed a woman calling out to her husband, “Honey! What’s that?”

Gerald’s eyes popped open. “Honey,” he muttered and recalled Elaine calling Seth that a few times while they were perusing his things. He stood up and gasped in realization when he remembered Seth tickling Elaine while she had the phone. “Honey, stop that,” Gerald repeated and realized how it all made sense now assuming one thing was taken as true: that she was jealous.

He did not, after all, know for certain that she saw.

But he did not want to risk having her feel that way.

Word Count = 3,851
Previous Count = 41,314
otal Count = 45,165 of 50,000
Lola Jocelyn stood alone amidst the silence remains of what was once a happy home. The brilliant display of lights and winds had long ended. What was once the center of an amazing moment of psychic power had been reduced now to what it truly was; an empty receptacle of what could have once been the heart of a thriving and living family. Lola Jocelyn walked past the debris and the dust and made her way slowly and carefully to the higher rooms where the now deteriorated remains of what was once a beautifully decorated bedroom existed. The walls, that once were covered in intricately designed wall paper and plaster were now peeling darkened things that resembled the disintegrating ribbons of bandage that covered an Egyptian mummy. The floor, once a sleek brown expanse of carefully cut and fitted boards of wood and shavings, was now a sad shadow of its former splendor. The floor boards were warped and have long lost their varnish. Some had even been peeled from their nails, perhaps by vagrants or perhaps by the most uncaring yet consistent thief of all: time.

Walking past the door that no longer hung upon its hinges, Lola Jocelyn took tentative steps into the room and slowly turned her head to gaze at its corners. She felt her heart expand within her chest as the memories that made this skeleton of a chamber have meaning rose to the surface of her thoughts. She remembered the beautiful brown shades that the wooden floor boards once shone. The pink, white and red wall paper that was plastered over the walls and in some places were loose enough for Jocelyn, then barely ten years old, would hide secretly scribbled messages of joy and fear and admiration… and eventually, when she reached the early years of her womanhood, love and lust.

Lola Jocelyn still saw, though the room no longer contained them, the intricate brass work lamp that at once time was her constant companion and protector of the frighteningly dark coming of night. She could still remember the marble-topped three toed table that carried the lamp, with its three drawers whose handles were brass rings that had a pearl in the center. She remembered how the top drawer was always reserved for the Holy Bible. And her rosary. While the second one was stuffed with her secret journal and the letters that she had received from numerous suitors. The third drawer was always locked. It was locked when she first was permitted to own the table. And it was still locked very many years later, when Lola Jocelyn was now old enough to have grandchildren, even if neither Juanito nor Carlito ever had given her any.

The bed. Lola Jocelyn remembered the huge bed with its brass work design, its thick white and peach cushions that on some occasions would tear and require some patching up and stitching after its stuffing was forced back inside. She remembered the large white sheets that covered the bed; all four of them with the top most one having the shells and flowers pattern embroidered upon its edge. And the velvety black and red final bed sheet covering that served as her blanket when the nights were cold. Lola Jocelyn remembered her pillows; her parents had wanted her to never feel alone. They had given her five to use. Four were nearly as huge as she was when she was ten. She used to even play pretend with them, setting them up on the bed like crouched companions as she served imaginary tea and biscuits. The fifth was a much more normally sized one, though it had the shell and flowery design embroidered on its fringes to match the bed covering. This pillow tended to be the one left on top of the bed.
Lola Jocelyn walked to the nearby window and stopped at its threshold. She brought her hands to her face and stared at them against the street lights from the distance. She looked at the numerous lines and markings that gave her hands so much more character and life. A smile slowly crept upon her wizened face as her eyes focused on something far more distant than the edge of the horizon where the city continued past yet could no longer be seen. She heard the soft chimes of the church bell ringing in the distance, or rather remembered how the bells would sound as they tolled the hour back then. She could perceive the heavy white curtains whose tails were decorated with the same shell and floral embroidery. And then the square slides of glass panels that made up the window, a design that was evidently expensive for its time.

For its time.

Which was a time that had long past but brought back to life by the memories of a tired dead woman.

Lola Jocelyn found herself staring at the glass and seeing her reflection; a shapely and comely young adult who loved to wear her hair with chopsticks rather than a ribbon or pin. A ravishing beauty who had very many suitors yet entertained only one at the window of her very own room.

Jocelyn noticed a few creases on the hem line of her dress and quickly bent one leg to reach down and smoothen it. The church bell was nearly done ringing and any moment, Jocelyn knew her parents would knock upon her door to remind her it was time for Church. But today was the fourth Sunday of the month, and Jocelyn knew today was the day she had to find some reason to let her stay. She had tried many other excuses in the past: feeling slightly feverish last January, an urge to vomit on February, there was the stomach trouble that supposedly afflicted her last March, and this April she knew he had to come up with something sufficiently different enough yet just as convincing.

Knock, knock

Just as she had expected, the knocks came. They were followed by the kindly concerned voice of her mother. “Lynn?” her mother loved to shorten her name. Her father, on the other hand, felt that shortening Jocelyn was inappropriate and seemed to suggest their daughter lacked formal breeding. “We are just about ready for Church. The bell has run. Are you ready?”

Jocelyn decided to give a delay before responding was bound to help make her excuse sound more convincing. Only, she did not really have an excuse yet in mind to use.

“Lynn?” she asked again and Jocelyn turned to face the door and felt a sudden burst of inspiration. Perhaps she could lie in bed, under the sheets, then cough a few times and invite her mother in. Play sick. Pretend she was developing a cough. She remembered hearing about an Uncle who died from a cough before. If she pretended to have a cough, her parents would surely demand that she rest today. It would cost a few pesos in indulgences to ask the Lord forgiveness for letting her stay in, but it was surely much safer than to let a child, or rather, a young woman with cough out into a cold night?

Jocelyn gathered her dress in one hand, then slid the top most bed sheet off with the other, and was about to leap in when she realized that to lie on the bed was certain to cause more creases upon her dress. And that would not do at all. Not with him coming by while her parents were out at Church.

His name was Edsel San Lucino. And he had been courting Jocelyn for the past four months. Ever since they first bumped into each other at the end of the previous year’s Christmas mass, Edsel San Lucino had been finding ways to get to know Jocelyn more. Edsel San Lucino lived in the town further down the river from where Jocelyn lived at; and at that time for one to live nearly a full two hours walk from his destination was a place considered to be indeed very far. While Jocelyn and her family were thankfully blessed with enough resources and familiar ties to own a furnished home, a large patch of farm land and a few horses, Edsel San Lucino was the only son of a farmer who worked in one of the fields owned by one of Jocelyn’s neighbors. Edsel himself worked on the farm land, though his skills and experience gave him the duty of caring for the horses rather than the land itself. Jocelyn knew Edsel was a charmingly handsome fellow who evidently was from a more modest family; she had seen him after all by the entrance of the Church wearing his off-white shirt, ragged brown pants and slippers. But still, such a difference in social class did not matter. As strange as it would have, the two discovered something had been born in their hearts from that brief moment of seeing one another. So while Jocelyn’s parents were busy giving hellos and displaying the expected familiarity and sincerity with the other well-off strangers who had attended mass that day, the young woman saw the opportunity to see if she could get to know him more.

As Jocelyn pulled the bed sheet back in place, she found her thoughts fluttering back to when she had first met the suitor who had captured her heart even before introducing himself. Her thoughts leapt back to that fateful night, after church, as she walked away from her parents and approached one of the tired old women who sat by the Church entrance. The old woman sold flowers and candles to those who cared to buy. In the corner of her eye, Jocelyn saw the man approach her and bring his straw hat down from his head. She feigned ignorance of his presence of course, and motioned to the old woman to buy some flowers. Sadly, Jocelyn had no way to know that the old woman was half-deaf.

“Ate, may I buy some of those flowers you have for sale?”

The old woman did not respond.


Edsel San Lucino looked at the old woman, and then back at Jocelyn to see what was transpiring. Recognizing who the old woman was, Edsel decided to stay back and let Jocelyn try her best to get noticed.
“Ate, may I buy some of your flowers?” Jocelyn asked a second time, only this time she tried waving her hand towards the old woman’s face. The sudden motion of something close to her face startled the old woman, and she fell backwards, nearly hitting the floor. Edsel quickly stepped up behind the old woman and caught her with his sturdy hands.

“Ay ‘sus maryosep,” the old woman exclaimed, ironically using the Lord’s name, Mother Mary’s and Saint Joseph’s name in vain in front of a Church, “What was that?”

“I am so sorry,” Jocelyn apologized but the old woman did not hear a single word.

“Something flew at me? Something moved past my face?”

“Relax, Lola Vera, it was just-“ Edsel soothed the old woman but her agitation was not yet completely removed.

“Is it on my face? My back? Oh, this woman… she wants to buy something?” Lola Vera looked up at Jocelyn and offered a nearly toothless smile. Though old and tired and dressed in clothes that seemed to have more dust than color on them, Lola Vera smiled an honest and huge grin. Jocelyn found herself envying her happiness. And reminded herself not to look towards Edsel no matter what. “Do you want candles? Flowers? What did you want to buy? I have change.”

Jocelyn smiled, seeing how Lola Vera was now responding to what she thought was her earlier statement, “I would like to buy those flowers, please.”

“What do you want?”

“Flowers. Those flowers?”

“How about flowers? These flowers?” Lola Vera lifted the bunch of white daisies that had been gently nipped from what ever bush they had grown from, tied into a small clutch and wrapped in thin green cloth to keep the uneven stems from hurting the holder’s fingers.

“Yes those would do-“ Jocelyn answered only to see Lola Vera bring the daisies down and lift up the bunch of red roses as well as a second bunch that contained red santan blooms, “How about these? Roses. You like roses? All women like roses. Or these santan. They are lovely. You can grow these. Just stab them to the earth-”

“No no… I only wanted the daisies,” Jocelyn replied not realizing the only thing she said loud enough for Lola Vera was the word ‘No.’

“You do not want flowers? Candles then? For Church? For offering? I have many candles. They are not candles made from other people’s candles. These are real candles. New candles,” Lola Vera brought the flowers down and lifted some candles. A few were long and waxy. Two were inside red glass containers that had a spiky exterior like those you’d find in Church offering racks. One was a round candle with a small metal flap that pinned the wick to the wax.

“No, I wanted the daisies,” Jocelyn was getting flabbergasted. She huffed and reached for the daisies only to have Lola Vera suddenly slap her hand. Shocked, Jocelyn pulled her hand back and stared at the old woman in confusion.

The old woman shook her head, still trying to be helpful even if she failed to realize how wrong she was coming off on the girl, “Not these. No. Not candles. You want candles. These. These candles.”

“I do not want candles. I want daisies!” Jocelyn gasped and once again uttered the word Candles loud enough for Lola Vera to hear. The rest of the words faded away, failing to pierce her deafness.

“Candles, yes. Here,” Lola Vera handed Jocelyn two of the long stemmed ones. Jocelyn dropped them, unprepared to receive long yellow wax candles from an old woman, and shook her head, sighing audibly. Lola Vera mistook her reaction to mean she wanted a different kind of candle. She dug into her basket and began laying out on the ground in front of Jocelyn the other candles that she sold. There were short ones, stout ones, white ones, yellow ones. There was even one with the image of the Blessed Virgin upon it. And another that was decorated with pink and blue ribbons. Lola Vera gave another heartfelt smile; she was proud of the variety that she offered.

“No..” Jocelyn sighed and noticed the man was still there. She turned to face him and saw him looking at her as if he had seen something unexpected. She realized for the first time, as she turned to look at him now, how incredibly entrancing his eyes were. She liked how his eyelashes reminded her of her own. His were naturally shaped, curving just at the right moment to add more depth to the eyes. She remembered how on some mornings she would spend nearly an hour tugging on her lashes, hoping for them to grow more and curve just a tad better. She noticed the tight nose that he had; very unlike the fat and flat noses most men had. His mouth seemed a small touch off-center, which added a roguish level of charm to the man.

“Mind if I help?” he asked her, not once did his eyes leave hers.

”Please,” she replied, then took a heavy gulp before speaking again, “I would like that.”

He smiled and Jocelyn felt her heart flutter around her chest. She felt shy and sheepish. She felt her cheeks flush and tried to find some place to hide for a moment and let it subside. But she was also staring right at him and realized she did not want to risk looking away and lose sight of him. She was not even sure why she felt that way that moment.

“Lola Vera,” Edsel whispered to her ear. Lola Vera turned towards him and smiled, bringing one of her arms to his cheek and squeezed the skin. “Lola Vera… this kind woman here wants to purchase one of your flowers.”

“Flowers?” Lola Vera complained and shook her head. Just before she began to rattle about how Jocelyn was not making any sense, Edsel stepped back from the old woman, looked at Jocelyn and hand signed her to tell her Lola Vera was partly deaf. Jocelyn finally realized what was going on earlier.

“Is she deaf?” Jocelyn asked Edsel. Edsel nodded and pointed at one of Lola Vera’s ears.

“Try talking towards this ear,” he shared the information with her, “She hears better on this ear.”

Jocelyn smiled back at Edsel then ducked down to Lola Vera’s eye level and handed her a few coins to pay for the flowers. She leaned forwards, bringing herself closer to the preferred ear which Edsel showed her. “You do not have to give me change for the flowers,” she declared in a much louder voice then offered a friendly smile.

The old woman nodded her head. She looked up at the young woman’s eyes and found the true message she wanted to deliver to her. The words came clearer now even though there was no sign board or sign language interpreter that would have clarified what Jocelyn had just said. Lola Vera took the coins gladly and took from her bunch a single red rose among the other flowers. She handed this flower to Jocelyn and told her, “For you. Since you are such a nice young lady.”

Jocelyn blushed, having not expected to receive such a compliment. She took the rose and pressed it gently against her nose. She inhaled deeply and took the scent in, smiling as she found the beautiful floral smell still rich and yet soft.

“Thank you,” she told him as she rose back to her full height. In the distance, Jocelyn’s parents were done giving every one they knew a hello and a short chit chat. Jocelyn knew any moment now the two were to be looking for her. She approached Edsel, reached out her hand to him, and once again said, “Thank you.”

Edsel took her hand, gently kissed it, and introduced himself, “Edsel san Lucino, Ma’am. I would like to see you again.”

“So would I,” Jocelyn replied but before she could say more, the shrill call of her mother reached her ears. Pulling her hand away, Jocelyn smiled at Edsel one more time before turning away and walking towards her parents. Edsel brought his hand to his face and realized the soft floral scent from Jocelyn’s hand lingered on his fingers. He watched as Jocelyn was briefly reprimanded by her parents for straying too far, then made to walk with them as they moved to leave.

“If she found me interesting,” Edsel mumbled to himself, “She would look back.”

Jocelyn did.

It took Jocelyn a moment to realize her mother was still knocking on the door. She let go of the bed covers, deciding it would not do to pretend to be ill and end up with her dress in a mess. That would simply be counter-productive to what she wanted to accomplish. Quickly, Jocelyn made her way to the large dresser and opened them wide. She considered changing first into something simpler, then changing back into the dress once her parents were gone. But then she realized she did not have the luxury of time to do so.

“Lynn,” her mother asked for a third time and now worried, called down the hall for one of the manservants, “Bebie, Aldwin, the key to Jocelyn’s room. Please bring it here. Quickly.”

Jocelyn knew that if she missed this month’s chance to meet with Edsel, she would not be able to see him again for another full month. Or worse, he might think she no longer wanted to see him and choose to never return. Edsel came from a less prestigious family, and to travel the distance, Edsel had to embrace huge sacrifices be it financial or physical. A single journey to see Jocelyn consumed two full days for Edsel due to traveling and exhaustion alone, which in turn meant two days that would be docked from his pay. Though his parents repeatedly told him of the unlikelihood of Jocelyn ever choosing him over her most likely many other suitors, Edsel stayed firm and promised to visit every last Sunday of the month.

“Bebie, the key, quickly!”

Jocelyn moved to the window, slid it open, and considered jumping out. She found herself imagining what would happen if she landed on the grass outside, ran down the fields and into Edsel’s arms, and eloped. What if they were to find a future away from her family. Away from their constricting embrace.

“Eto na po, Ate,” the househelper named Bebie handed Jocelyn’s mother the key.

Jocelyn turned her back towards the window and watched as the door to her room clattered as the key was slid inside, then opened as her mother rushed inside. “Jocelyn!” she called out, nearly tripping over herself, then froze upon seeing her at the window, “What happened to you? Why were you now answering?” Jocelyn’s mother stepped closer but remained around ten feet away from her daughter. Perhaps she was too afraid that any sudden movements would cause her daughter to do something unexpected. Seeing the window open was already something that none of them expected to see. Forcing herself to be calmer, Jocelyn’s mother raised both hands towards her daughter and asked, “What is it? Lynn, what is bothering you?”

Bebie and Aldwin stared from the door. Bebie, realizing that the master of the house would most likely want to know what was going on, backed away from the door and quickly ran down the corridor to look for him. Aldwin looked around the room, as if to check if anything else would give some clue to what was going on.

“Lynn, what is going on?” Jocelyn’s mother repeated her inquiry and tried to stay calm.

Jocelyn felt her heart pounding in her chest. She felt the sudden guilt and pain of hiding the truth from her mother. She sighed and looked out the window and saw in the distance Edsel, still hiding among the trees and waiting to see the carriage which Jocelyn’s parents would have taken to Church leave the premises. She liked him. She was proud of him. But she knew her parents would never approve. Never let her allow a man of less class and stature court her. Even if she did not care about class and social status. Even if she did not care about wealth or inheritance.

But was she already willing to risk all that for a person she simply liked?

“Mother,” Jocelyn stepped forward and reached her hands out towards her mother. She felt the tears escape and fall like small diamonds, sparkling before shattering into tiny broken shards of water upon hitting the floor. Jocelyn and her mother held each other for a long time, ignoring even the questions Jocelyn’s father would ask as he walked up to the doorway. Jocelyn felt her mother’s heart beating so fast, and she realized her mother was crying too.

“What is going on here? Jocelyn?” Jocelyn’s father asked, his voice rising and almost angry.

Jocelyn’s mother held her still. She whispered to her daughter, “In the end, it is up to you to choose,” and with those words, everything fell into place. Jocelyn suddenly knew that her mother too lived much like her, and sought just as much as she did a sense of freedom from all that was expected and forced upon her. And that at one point in her life, her mother perhaps was at such a threshold, to choose the path her life was to take, and made none. Her mother chose not to make a decision. And so one was made for her.

Her mother had never married the man she wanted.

Lola Jocelyn realized she was crying again, even if she was long dead and ethereal. She wiped away the ghostly tears and turned to find Patricia standing at the door way, looking at her with worried and nervous eyes. It was almost as if history was repeating itself.

“Lola Jocelyn?” Patricia asked and found Lola Jocelyn walking towards her. The ghostly grandmother whom Patricia had long been spending time with, speaking with and at times praying over, brought her arms around Patricia and held her close in a tight embrace. Patricia, a bit caught by surprise by all this, looked around at first, hoping to see anything in the ruins of the room that would explain Lola Jocelyn’s sudden sentimentality.

“Lola Jocelyn, what is going on?” Patricia tried asking again.

“It is your choice,” the old ghost admitted to Patricia and loosened her hug a bit. She brought both hands to Patricia’s cheeks and gently guided Patricia’s face to look at the broken window behind her. Patricia stared at the open space and saw tiny trails of ectoplasmic light dancing at the fringes of the window. “It is ultimately your choice,” Lola Jocelyn reminded Patricia and gently let go of Patricia’s face to walk with her towards the window. The light had become a ring that followed the shape of the window. In its center, ripples began to dance, like the surface of the sea under a full moon. Silver trails dances and shifted until slowly the window became a true window to another part of the city. Patricia gasped as she saw the image of Gerald inside the portal, still in a bus on his way home.

“Who do you see,” Lola Jocelyn asked, “Inside this window, who do you see?”

Patricia gasped, uncertain how to answer and watched as she saw Gerald rising from his seat to offer it to a woman who just rode the bus and found it full. Patricia found herself smiling even if she was still confused as to what Lola Jocelyn was focused on.

“What is going on, Lola?”

“Tell me what do you see in this window. Who?”

“Are you feeling strange? Sentimental?” Patricia offered to help Lola Jocelyn answer but the old spirit would not be deterred.

“Who do you see?”

Patricia turned to Lola Jocelyn and smiled, “I see a good friend. A kind friend.”

“And this friend, he is important to you?”

“He-“ Patricia turned to Lola Jocelyn and peered at her with suddenly suspicious eyes that were half-hidden beneath nearly closed eyelids, “You can see what is inside this window?”

“No,” Lola Jocelyn admitted, “But I suspect it is very similar to what I used to see when I looked outside this window.”

“What did you see, Lola Jocelyn?” Patricia asked, turning back to face the window. Inside, she saw Gerald holding on to one of the hand rails above to keep his balance. He was singing, it seemed, and smiling to himself. He looked oblivious to the world around him.

“I used to look out this window and see a man whom I barely knew. A man whom I wanted to know so much more. And yet, even if we embraced the precious little time we would have for one another, it would never feel like it was enough. I used to look out this window and see a man whom I always told myself… always convinced myself was someone whom I wanted to have as a friend,” Lola Jocelyn explained, staring into the window now as well, though all see saw was the empty street outside.

“What happened, Lola Jocelyn, between you and this man?” Patricia asked her.

“What happened between me and him is the past now,” Lola Jocelyn explained very gently to Patricia, “And the past is the past. What matters now is you, Patricia. Is your future. The man you see in the window. What has happened to him?”

“He’s on a bus. He’s heading home. I guess he lived further away than I did from where we had dinner.”

“No, I meant in the greater scheme of things,” Lola Jocelyn turned to Patricia as if to see if she understood. “What has happened between you two?”

“He’s a good friend,” Patricia admitted, “He’s a very kind man. He’s nice. He’s funny.”

“But?” Lola Jocelyn asked, sensing the hesitation in Patricia’s voice.

“But I don’t really know him yet. It has barely been a enough time. I don’t really know what he wants. I don’t even know if he can be trusted,” Patricia admitted, “I don’t want to make the same mistakes I did before of trusting someone else too quickly. Or too blindly.”

“You have a gift,” Lola Jocelyn reminded Patricia, “And you have not chosen to use this gift to know more about him. Or to know what you want to know for certain about him. Why?”

“I don’t know,” Patricia admitted, shrugging as she spoke.

”No, there is a reason,” Lola Jocelyn prodded her more. Patricia thought for a moment and raised both eyebrows as she replied. Part of her did not even feel like it was truly the reason. “Maybe I want to try to find out the normal way. To discover the truth the proper way.”

“And in many ways, that is what makes it very different for you two,” Lola Jocelyn replied, “More so when you try to compare it to what you have gotten used to.”

Patricia looked at her, uncertain what she meant. As she turned her head back to the window and saw Gerald give the bus driver a signal that he was getting down at that point, Patricia heard Lola Jocelyn continue.

“Most couples, when they meet, they struggle to find that magical moment. They struggle to find that perfect minute when things seem to just work. Or to find that single moment they believe that they’d look into each other’s eyes and find themselves falling in love. Maybe it was because of the movies they have seen. Or the books they have read. Or maybe even the stories they have heard from others. But ultimately, they all find themselves meeting people then searching for the same thing: the magic. They find themselves wanting to see the magic that love brings into it. The magic that makes them realize, ‘yes, this is love.’

“But few of them ever really find it. Most of the time, couples find themselves losing interest after a few more dates. Or a few more weeks. Their reasons betray their real feelings at times. They claim to have lost the love for the other. Or speak of not feeling content. But never have they realized such feelings were not because love failed them. They were the failings of having struggled to find the magic of love in their relationship by ignoring its more obvious and less romanticized signs.

Lola Jocelyn stroked her hand against Patricia’s hair, combing it back with her fingers even as Patricia continued to watch the images that she saw in the window. Gerald had stepped down from the bus, then walked down the small curved road between a Church and a school, and reached a park that was still alive with many children playing and people hanging about.

“With you two, the magic is there. In more ways than you both expected it to be. And in many ways, it was frightening. Frightening to see how it all seemed to make sense. Or how it all seemed to fit into place,” Lola Jocelyn stopped for a moment, as if to see if Patricia was to contradict her. Patricia merely smiled, watching as Gerald walked past the park and went further down the street to stop at a light greenish gray gate. He fumbled with his pockets to find his keys. It was dark. And he had too many keys.

“What more do you need to see as signs?” Lola Jocelyn asked Patricia. Patricia watched as suddenly, a street light lit up, giving Gerald just enough light to find the right key. He shook his head in disbelief, slid the key in, and opened the door. The light shut back down just as Gerald stepped through. “Do you need to see him in your dreams? Do you need to hear suddenly confessing his feelings for you in the radio? Or his name suddenly appearing on walls and billboards as you make your way to work?”

Patricia turned to look at Lola Jocelyn and realized she was starting to glow. Small trails of light began to dance on her body.

“Lola Jocelyn?” she asked her, motioning to the small comet light trails that appeared then faded away. “Something is happening to you.”

“It was the same for Juanito and Carlito,” she explained, remembering that Patricia was not aware of the two’s transcendence from death, “They finally resolved their final conflicts. And now, I believe, I am resolving mine.”

Patricia looked at Lola Jocelyn, suddenly worried, “You are…. You’re going away?”

“No,” Lola Jocelyn told her gently, “I am going ahead. To where we are meant to go when our time here is done. We will see each other again, after all.”

Patricia suddenly pulled away from the window and turned to face Lola Jocelyn, “You can’t leave yet. Not yet. Not when I need your advice. Not when I need to hear your view on things?”

“There is nothing that you cannot decide for yourself, Patricia dearest. Among the two of us, you are the one who truly knows and understands what you are going through. This is not like you coming of age and going through puberty with me having gone through it before being armed with the precise information of what you should know. This is a matter of the heart. Of the head. And of your decision. When it concerns such matters, it is always different. No two such moments are ever the same,” Lola Jocelyn saw the lights that surrounded her body begin to glow even more vibrant and radiant. Patricia was starting to find it harder to see Lola Jocelyn. The light was just too strong.

“But how do I know what I should do,” she asked Lola Jocelyn, worried. “I… I am not good with this… I am not good with romance.”

Lola Jocelyn found herself remembering the words of her very own mother said so many years ago in this very room.

“It is your choice,” she told Patricia and felt the pull of the source of the lights beckon her to let go. To move on. To bid this world farewell, “It is ultimately your choice, Patricia.”

The light flared into a brilliant burst of starlight and fading moon glow. Patricia brought her arms down from her face to see that Lola Jocelyn was gone with only now fading small fireflies of light as a hint of her ghost having been there just seconds ago. Patricia, crying both joyful and sad tears for Lola Jocelyn’s farewell, found her gaze moving towards the floor area near the window. Almost covered by the debris and dust was an old picture frame. Leaning down to pick it up, Patricia found inside an old family photo of Lola Jocelyn with her two children and a handsome looking man. At the bottom of the photograph, engraved on the frame were the words; Jocelyn, Edsel with Juan and Carlo.

Patricia decided to keep the picture frame, to remember her old friends, and made her way home.

Word Count = 5,928
Previous Count = 35,386
Total Count = 41,314 of 50,000

Sunday, November 27, 2005

The shrimp was still fresh. The lettuce was nicely crisp. And the mangoes gave the salad the added touch of flavor.

Gerald navigated his fork between folds of green to find a tiny cube of yellow among the reddish white meat of the small decapod crustacean. He slid the small cube of mango out of his plate and held it in front of him with the intention of asking Patricia if she wanted some.

”No thanks,” she smiled and stabbed her fork upon the carbonara she had ordered for herself. Gerald grinned.

“You did it again,” he told her.

”Did what?”

“You did it again,” he repeated himself and scooped the mango cube into his mouth, “You answered a question I did not ask yet.”

“Well,” Patricia shrugged, “You were digging through your salad for almost ten minutes. Then you were holding that fork in front of you for almost two minutes. Obviously you had something to either say or were deeply thinking of how to say something. So I decided to trust my gut instincts and answer what I thought you were thinking.”

Gerald shook his head in disbelief, “You really are psychic.”

“So are you,” she teased him and began to use her fork to chop up the carbonara noodles into smaller easier to scoop stalks, “You were the one here to had some form of clairvoyant vision.”

”I know, it was freaky. Well, it was cool. And freaky. I mean, I could really see you. The windows and all that.”

”Hollywood inspired clairvoyance,” she mused, “Think about it, while some people see dead ghosts, you probably see them with light sabers and matching green mist or something.”

“No fair,” Gerald raised both hands from the table and interlocked their fingers in front of his face, as if hiding in shame, “I have one single moment of mutant ability and you have to tear it down to pieces.”

“One could hope,” Patricia teased him and scooped some carbonara onto a spoon.

“No thanks,” Gerald told her and slid a forkful of leafy greens into his mouth. “I normally prefer red sauce pasta… or pesto,” he explained between chewing motions.

“Now who here is playing psychic?”

They shared another hearty laugh and felt the world around them fade away. For that moment, there was no one else in the world that existed. No one else in the world that mattered. The noise of the city faded away. The sounds of traffic fell silent. The cold seasonal winds seemed just right.

”Gerald,” Patricia broke the silence with a question, “What is going on here? I mean, why did you invite me out for dinner?”

“You’re asking me a serious question,” Gerald asked, as if to clarify if the witty banter was not welcome. Patricia gave a nod in reply. Taking a deep breath, Gerald wiped his lips clean with the table napkin and gave his answer, “I like hanging around with you.”

“So you invited me for dinner because?”

“It was evening?”

“Gerald-“ Patricia was about to call foul but Gerald continued talking.

“Had it been morning, I would have invited you instead out for breakfast. Noon. Lunch. Heck, if it were around midnight I’d ask you if you’d like to go have a night cap. Or maybe some dessert before heading for bed.”

“But why?”

“Why am I asking you out?” Gerald looked at Patricia as if he did not know for certain what the question was supposed to be about.

“Yes, why are you asking me out? It is not like we really know each other,” Patricia asked with a smile.

“That is actually it.”

“What is?”

”We don’t,” Gerald smiled, “And I am basically trying to change that.”

The two fell silent again. Gerald was blushing, though he tried to pretend he wasn’t. He felt a great smile growing inside of him, having finally gotten the change to admit he liked her. He would never admit it, but Gerald was actually in more ways than not a coward at heart when it came to matters of the heart. Admitting his feelings was easy, but admitting his intentions was harder. Gerald, one must understand, was never self-assertive in the past. During his childhood years, Gerald was counted among the geeks and nerds whom was always forced to stand as the outsider when it came to any activities. He was seen as the strange one. The odd man out. Or the one whom was picked last when it came to group activities. Growing up in such an environment of detached interest towards him, Gerald learned pretty fast during those years how to simply admit when he did not feel comfortable. Or whether or not he would rather not force himself upon a group that did not appreciate his company. Being honest about how he felt was easy. But when it came to admitting why he would rather go home than play. Or why he would rather read his comic books than play basketball, it was then that he would falter. It was then that the fears of being ridiculed or called a freak would win over his sense of convictions.

And force him to lie.

He hated lying. But he hated more the strange looks and odd stares he would get when he would explain how he felt like the rest of the kids did not like him. Or how the rest of the group would mock the things he was insecure about. Or worse, how the very insecurity would be transformed into a joke that would then be the joke of the year used against him.

“I really believe I like you, Patricia,” Gerald took the risk and prayed that he had made the right decision, “I even want to see if this actually leads somewhere. But I think right now we are actually still in the getting to know one another stage so there is no reason to be paranoid yet right? It would be like getting way ahead of ourselves.”

Patricia gave no response. Gerald felt his old worries rise to the fore and ducked his head back to face his plate. Scoop after scoop of the salad found a sanctuary in his mouth. He felt too scared to look up and see what expression was on Patricia’s face.

“I’m sorry, what exactly did that mean?”

Gerald felt himself crumble. Was she making a joke over what he said? Patricia bent her torso forward a bit, hoping to bring her face more into Gerald’s line of sight. She offered her kindest smile, and asked again, “Ahead of ourselves?”

“Sorry,” Gerald shook his head nervously, “I’m assuming things here, I think.”

Patricia smiled but felt the pause grow into a pregnant and nervous one. She wanted to break the silence but was not sure how to do so. Or what to say. Gerald was already mentally counting the seconds which he believed would lead to Patricia excusing herself and perhaps giving some odd yet evidently plausible excuse to cut the dinner short.

Gerald was used to such excuses.

“We’re friends,” Patricia asked, as if to clarify.

“Of course,” Gerald responded and immediately found himself hating the answer he gave. In one mind set, saying yes would mean one was not interested in courtship. It would have given the impression that the other was really just someone whom was expected to be a friend. A buddy. Maybe even just some acquaintance. In another mind set, to have said No would have meant one had ulterior intentions in mind. Or perhaps unspoken plans. Which then would have suggested a very concealed motive. A lack of trust.

Gerald felt the fear rising in his chest. He felt the fear already winning the battle and his left foot already tapping the ground unnecessarily out of nervousness. He brought the glass to his lips and took a sip. In that motion, he stole a glance towards Patricia and saw how she took his answer:

She was eating her carbonara.

Paranoia went into over-drive. Gerald could hear himself yelling in his head, “Look what you have done! See! She is now uncertain of what you want! She does not even know how to act around you now! You have ruined it all! Ruined it all!” He swallowed two more gulps of water without bringing the glass down.

“Okay,” Gerald broke the silence and set the glass down with a resounding clatter. The other people in the restaurant turned towards them, wondering what the noise was about. Gerald raised a hand in apology, stood up and mouthed a few “I’m sorry” apologies to the staff who came to check if some customer had thrown a glass in anger.

Patricia smiled as Gerald sat back down and the two shared another moment just smiling at the incident. They tended to have those moments, Gerald now began to realize. Moments of silent happiness, shared without either side having to initiate it.

“Okay,” Gerald started again, “I want to explain something. But do know that I am very unused to this…”

“Uh huh,” Patricia nodded in reply as she wiped her own mouth clean with the napkin she held in her other hand, “Okay…”

“Okay,” Gerald exhaled to try and calm himself down. “I really like you. And I like you a lot that I do not want to rush things. I do not want to risk turning this into some rebound thing. Or some weird physical thing. I want to get to know you more. Because so far, from the little I do know of you, I like what I know already.”

Gerald felt the cold sweat in his hands. He felt the quiver in his voice. He felt his knees go weak. But he felt a renewed sense of strength and pride. He had done it. He had admitted what his intentions were. And he had found the courage to risk being vulnerable and saying it. He remembered how some friends used to warn him that for a guy to admit he was interested in a girl was an act of great stupidity. Doing so would do nothing other than make the guy vulnerable and bare. No guy in his right mind would do such a thing, they used to tell him. No one who wanted to play the game right, that was.

But Gerald was long tired of such games. Gerald was very tired of people who would make bets with their friends as to whether or not they would get some gal’s phone number. People who would show interest in some other person they meet, chat the small chit chat, then get their numbers but never call. Or the people who would intentionally try to make the other leap through hoops. Or get jealous. Or play these mind games just to test one’s loyalty or one’s favor.

Gerald wanted someone who like him simply wanted to be real.

To be emotionally honest.

To be emotionally true.

So he took the risk.

“I want to get to know you more, Patricia.”

Gerald held his breath. He stared at Patricia’s eyes and noticed that she had stopped eating. There was a long moment of silence that threatened to grow into another pregnant pause. Gerald was already screaming in his head. He was remembering how stupid he was to think there would be others who didn’t play “the game.” He wanted to find the nearest time machine and jump back a few minutes. He wanted to delete this hideously embarrassing moment that ruined it all and try to keep in mind that no one really liked a guy who was honest about his own feelings and fears.

Patricia wiped her mouth again with the napkin then slowly stood from the table. Gerald felt his heart on the verge of breaking as she tried to force a smile on her face and excused herself.
“Sorry,” Patricia admitted, “I know this seems awkward. But really, I just need to pass by the bathroom.”

“Sure,” Gerald replied and watched her make her way to the restroom without once ever looking back. Gerald remembered an old movie he had seen in the past that told him a simple truism he always believed in. “A person who is interested would always look back.”

She never did.

* *

Patricia closed the bathroom door behind her and thanked God for having allowed her to reach the sink before her tears began to flow. She felt the huge burden of emotion on her chest weigh her down and released all the pent up frustration and fear out by crying it out in silence. She stared at her reflection on the mirror and found herself wondering why this was all happening. Why to her? Why now?

With trembling hands, Patricia turned on the faucet and allowed the water to flow. She placed both hands into the torrent of water and relished the cold soothing spray of water that doused her fingers to a calmer state of being. She bent forward and cupped her hands to gather what she could of the water, then brought the water to her face. It was like a cleansing ritual. Or a baptism. One that brought her from an old life of pain and self-doubt into one where she believed she found a possibly honest soul who actually felt she was worth his attention.

But was she ready for this?

Did she want this?

Patricia remembered the events that colored her past. The previous lovers and failed attempts at finding someone to share her life with. She remembered the half-meant promises, the lies, the proud proclamations that never amounted to anything, the selfish desires that twisted her needs into demands, and the pain. She remembered the pain most easily and the terribly difficult effort of recovering from each broken heart. The complicated task of shifting through her wounds and picking up the tiny glass shards of her heart from the mess of falsehoods and abuse. And not to forget the intricate task of gluing each shard back together again in hopes that someone else would someday want to embrace the multifarious effort of taking care of it again.

She saw herself as damaged goods, even if she had never allowed any physical act of violation upon her. She felt like she was too fragile to risk letting another person be part of her life.
But now, she felt like she stood at the edge of a cliff side with a parachute on her back named Gerald. Was she ready to take another gamble. To take another risk?

Patricia heard the intermittent knocking sounds coming from the door and realized that there was most likely someone outside wondering if she had fallen asleep in the loo. She gave her face one last drench of water to wash away any hints of the tears that fell earlier and suddenly discovered to her horror that there were no paper towels in sight. She reached for her purse and realized it was not at her side. Wet with water still on her face, Patricia decided to face the music and hope the door.

It was not like she could end up any more embarrassed than this.

* *

Gerald was fidgeting at the table, running his fingers in small circles as they tapped the table out of sheer nervousness. When he noticed the small line of people outside the ladies room, he felt even more foolish. He could imagine Patricia inside, perhaps gaging in disgust or laughing her heart out. Or perhaps even so embarrassed by his words that she had pried the window open and escaped off to God knows where ever it was she lived. He emptied his glass of water and hailed down the waiter to ask for a refill.

By the time the waiter had finished filling his glass, Gerald saw the bathroom door open and a very wet faced Patricia returned to the table. He looked at her with a curious interest expressed on her face. “What happened?”

“My bag please?”

“No paper towels?” Gerald asked as he handed her the bag. Patricia simply nodded and opened the bag. She dug through her things and found the small stash of facial tissues that she had been saving for emergencies like this.

“Psychic again!” Patricia joked and the two felt the tension immediately shatter. Once again, they felt the warm and clean comfort of being together. Once again they felt familiar. Safe.
“I like how you laugh,” Gerald found himself admitted.

”I like how you make me laugh,” Patricia admitted before she realized what she had said, “You have a knack for it.”

And suddenly, both felt like whatever oddness gave the night a strange direction earlier had suddenly faded away. Dinner came and went. Dessert followed. And by the coming of midnight, the two discovered how late it was and decided it was time to make their way home.

“I can commute, really,” Patricia insisted but Gerald would not hear any of it. He handed the waiter the payment for the food and folded the receipt twice before placing it in one of the pockets in his wallet, “No, I insist. I want to make sure you get home safely. If I don’t, I will end up worrying over you all night.”

“Really, I can,” Patricia tried to convince Gerald but found he remained firm on his decision.

”It’s final and I will not change my mind,” Gerald replied at first in what sounded like an assertively aggressive voice, until his tone revealed the frankness of his offer, “I will only let you go on your own if you have someone from your family or friends to go with you. Okay? So, let’s go.”

Patricia rose from her chair and found Gerald standing towards her with something in his hand. She looked up at him, a bit uncertain what was going on, until he realized what he held in his palm.

“A fortune cookie,” he explained, “There was a jar of them at work. Decided to take two and have us find out what our fortunes foretell.”

“Wow,” Patricia giggled, “Let’s find out!”

“Don’t forget to add ‘in bed’” Gerald reminded her but discovered Patricia did not even know what he was talking about. “In bed,” he explained as he cracked his own cookie open, “You are supposed to read it and add the words ‘in bed’ at the end for the more humorous and honest message.”

Patricia cracked her cookie open and began digging through the broken sweet cookie parts for the slip of paper that housed her fortune. She read it silently first, then began to giggle. Gerald found his and noticed something amusingly odd about it.

”I got two fortunes in mine,” Gerald gasped, “Very lucky then!”

“Listen to this:” Patricia began reading her fortune, “Do not pick a fight, be understanding instead…”

“…in bed,” Gerald continued it and started laughing. Patricia grinned as she took a shard of the sweet cookie and bit into it. The sugary flavor danced on her tongue. Liking it, Patricia took a second piece and nibbled it before asking Gerald to read his fortune.

“There are two,” Gerald explained and laid them down on the table, “See?”

Patricia picked up one of them and read it aloud. “Men may doubt what you say but they will believe what you do… in bed!”

Gerald, between gasps for breath due to laughter, read the other one, “Look for the simple pleasures. Your happiness is intertwined with your outlook on life… in bed!”

The two tried to stop laughing but their bodies refused to comply. Like hyenas giggling, Gerald and Patricia continued to heave with every laugh, tears welling in their eyes from the effort. Though they were just friends, they felt a close and frank relation to one another already there.

Already present.

And growing stronger by the day.

Word Count = 3,328
Previous Count = 32,058
Total Count = 35,386 of 50,000