There he was, excitedly waiting for the arrival of the nicest, sweetest, funniest, smartest girl he’d ever met. God, when did he turn into such a mushy cliché? He wasn’t sure if this was actually the L word, but it’s probably the closest he’d ever been to that letter. He has never even been in the vicinity of L, just somewhere in the back row with letters C and maybe I. Never L.
But if love was constantly thinking of her even as they continued to chat into the wee hours of the morning, if love was staring into space and daydreaming during meetings when you’re not supposed to think of girls, if love was already planning the trips you want to take her on because she’s never been outside of the country, if love was this inexplicable burst of affection when you remember how she made a fool of herself the first time that you met (but you thought it was actually adorable how she tripped thrice, once into your arms and spilled wine on her blouse and how she kept babbling on and on), if love was not minding the mind-numbing traffic you have to go through every time you would pick her up from work, if love was willing to have coffee with her scary dad when you’ve never met any of the parents of your past girlfriends, if love was willing to watch basketball with her and watch her go crazy cheering for her team even though you actually don’t understand or appreciate the sport, if love was this nervous, palm-sweaty feeling that you get at the thought of her walking through the door of the coffee shop, then yes, maybe this was actually love.
And then there she is finally walking towards him, and you know that phrase “his eyes light up upon seeing her?” He used to laugh at that and imagined cartoon characters with eyes bulging and with light bulbs lighting up. Guess who’s the silly cartoon now? She shyly walks up to him, awkwardly buzzes him on the cheek, hesitates at first and then she goes in for a hug. Of course he had to smell her hair, right?
“Hey yourself,” (and he immediately thinks what a stupid first sentence to tell her after all the build up in his head)
She tucks her hair behind her ear, a sure sign she’s nervous but also something that he finds so endearing. He fights the urge to muss up her hair so he can have the privilege of tucking those silky strands behind her ear again.
“You look very pretty today. If I’m not mistaken, you wore that skirt on our first date, right?”
She giggles, “Wow, should I be worried that you actually remember what girls wear on dates?”
He hears a quiet snort somewhere in the vicinity. He glances to the side and sees a girl typing away on her laptop with a smirk on her face. “Is she actually eavesdropping?” he muses. But then he forgets about the possibly nosy girl in the other table as Katie begins to talk. She was a bit shy and reserved when he first met her, but he noticed that as she becomes more comfortable with you, she is actually very chatty and can sometimes even be a bit too loud. Which he still found cute. At times. This particular day, for some reason, he wanted to tell her, “not so loud coz the girl beside us might be listening.”
She looks at him weirdly after a time, realizing she’s been the one doing most of the talking.
“Is there something wrong, Jake?”
“Nah, I just like listening to you talk.”
“Are you saying I talk too much?”
“No, no, no. I just enjoy your stories. I like hearing your voice.”
She suddenly grows quiet and serious.
“Katie, it’s okay. Nothing’s wrong.”
“Actually, there is something wrong.”
She takes a deep breath and her eyes fill with tears.
“I really didn’t want to tell you this over Viber or even over the phone and I know you should hear it in person. I actually don’t know how to say it.”
My palms started to sweat, but this time, not in a good way. I think I’ve heard this speech before. I may have given this speech to several girls before. No. No. No, this can’t be happening.
But it did happen. A few minutes later, he’s sitting alone, shell-shocked but with his heart beating a mile a minute. Did she really just dump me in a crowded coffee shop??? He kept hearing her words in a loop in his head.
“I really had a great time getting to know you these past few months.”
“You’ve helped me get out of my shell.”
“We’ve made good memories which I will forever treasure.”
“It’s not going to work.”
“I don’t see this going anywhere.”
“Different paths….no spark….want something else….end while it’s not too deep.”
The entire time he feels like he was having an out-of-body experience. He was looking down at this schmuck who was staring at this beautiful girl while she was slowly but surely tearing his heart into pieces. “Dude, that’s going to hurt like heck. Run away now!” he felt like shouting at himself. But now, here he was sitting in his chair, a cup of now cold coffee seemingly mocking him, his heart constricting, his temple throbbing, trying hard to act like it was nothing when his insides were disintegrating.
He glances at the girl at the table beside him. She has stopped furiously typing on her laptop and is staring into space. Did she actually hear what happened to him? Oh god. He looks around at the other tables near him and he notices sidelong, pitying glances. Great. They all heard him getting dumped by what he thought was the love of his life.
He looks at the possibly eavesdropping girl again and she’s now furiously scribbling into a piece of paper. She glances up at him and smiles at him sadly. He looks away quickly but strangely enough, when her smile should have felt like sandpaper rubbingover this gaping wound of his heart, it actually felt like someone put soothing balm on it.
But still, it was there, that ticking, annoying, rhythmically beating pain in his heart, whispering regrets, shattered almost plans, could-have-beens, you-should-have-done-thises, you-might-have-said-thises, dreams that were just beginning, all echoing in his head.
A shadow falls across him. It’s the girl from the next table. She’s just about to leave the coffee shop. She hands him a piece of paper, tucks her hair behind her ear, then walks away.
Did she just leave me her number??? After seeing him get dumped literally a few minutes ago, is she actually hitting on him??? The idea should have been annoying or even slightygross, but he was actually pretty nervous and excited and nauseous all at the same time. Combined with the pain and embarrassment, it was a heady combination that was confusing and pleasant and different.
He opens the paper, and there was a sketch of him, staring into space. It wasn’t an amazing piece of art but somehow the way she drew his eyes was eerily accurate. Sadness and pain and confusion. And if you looked really closely, there was also a slight glimmer of something he couldn’t name or dared not name. Hope. Wow, all this from a sketch?
And then he saw a note underneath.
“The pain passes but the beauty remains.” Auguste Renoir