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LT / Pieces of Tea

12:00:00 AM

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. Although some details were derived from real people, things, places, and events, this piece is still fictional. In other words, this did not happen, and I do not wish it would. I am posting this because someone urged me to. This is a very long post, and you have been warned. 

I recommend that you make yourself a nice cup of tea (oolong would be a good choice, or perhaps darjeeling) before you start reading. If you plan to read the story, that is. Thank you.
(photo from the internet)
***

He stared wistfully at a green chair, and then he recognized his happiness. Leave it to him to detect happiness rather than actually feel it. Maybe it wasn’t happiness, precisely. Maybe it was more like peace. But it was too brief; he didn’t have time to savor it before it went away.

Things weren’t supposed to be that way. But then again, things weren’t supposed to be anything, and inasmuch as he didn’t want to care about what he can’t control, he happened to give a damn. “I really don’t know what’s going to happen now,” he said for the nth time, mainly for his own benefit.

She listened patiently to the things he had to say, not because it was expected of her but because she really wanted to. She considered talking to him a learning experience and she badly craved those, as she believed she was dumb despite her 3.5 GPA.

“Alex,” she breathed, “nobody knows what’s going to happen. That’s what makes things so great.”

He pondered on it for a while. She was right and he knew it. He actually thought of it even before she said it, but she beat him to it. She didn’t get the name Speedy for no reason. She’s quick on court, and her serve scared even her tennis coaches. Had it not been for smoking, she would’ve easily won the tennis tournaments her mother made her join.

Speedy’s real name was Pelagia, but she never used it outside the house. She liked her name a lot – it was Greek for the sea, which she so loved. She didn’t like using it in school because she hated explaining where it came from, spelling it out or correcting whoever reads it. She was Speedy, just Speedy.

She sensed that there was yet again something wrong underneath the peaceful fa├žade. There was always something wrong in Alex’s current relationship, if one could even call it that. She didn’t want to care too much, but she couldn’t help it. It was in her nature to care. She was good at hiding it, though. She was good at hiding what she felt in a way that he was not.

A bolt of lightning tore Alex’s attention away from the green chair. “Ooh, I wish I had a camera.” Speedy smiled when he said that. He loved taking pictures of everything. “With the right lighting and the right angle, anyone and anything can be beautiful.” This statement usually started a litany of camera-related facts she was keen on knowing but not exploring.

Speedy almost always felt that he was too smart for her. He once told her about light pollution, a concept foreign to her as the Russian alphabet. “It affects the ecosystem, particularly nocturnal animals because they confuse the light signals with daylight. It’s also a reason why humans aren’t too well-rested.” Such were not exactly the most useful bits of information for a management major, but she liked knowing them nonetheless.

Alex looked at her and saw her usually big eyes shrink to slits when she smiled. He loved making people smile; it was a way for him to assimilate the happiness that seemed to elude him each time.

With the image of Speedy smiling broadly, sincerely, Alex remembered his sister, Amy, who died at fourteen. He was seventeen when she passed away, and two years later she came back in the form of Speedy, who was sixteen at the time. When they first met, he wanted to embrace her tightly, believing that she was his sister. He did have enough common sense to not do it, though. He never told Speedy about Amy.

She’s so young, he thought. Speedy was eighteen, three years younger than he was, and although her thinking and at times, her writing, didn’t show it, her child-like enthusiasm and her wide-eyed stare betrayed her each time. She was, in essence, a kid trapped in an adult’s body.

“Did you know that lightning never strikes the same place twice?” Of course he knew it, but the way she said it made him doubt even if he really did.

“Yeah, pretty cool, huh?” That was about as far as his politeness would carry him.

Speedy cursed at herself for being stupid, yet again. She hated that she did not have all the right things to say. She wasn’t particularly confident about herself to begin with; she tends to fish for compliments when she needed affirmation. “They’re right,” she would always try to think when people said she had a beautiful voice or a killer forehand, but at the back of her mind, she tried to look for hints of sarcasm that didn’t exist.

“Are you okay?” Speedy wanted to know. The peace he had all over him earlier seemed to have left him in the cold. She knew what he was thinking about.

"Yeah, sure,” was all he could say. He didn’t want to talk about it. She got the message right away and didn’t push it, but she knew perfectly well that this wasn’t true. It was yet another lie meant to preserve order.

He told her everything about his pseudo-relationship with Ella, a woman he met just about the same time a common friend introduced Speedy to him. It was sad how everything seemed wrong, how he always didn’t know what to do. But in a way she envied him; nothing between her and her boyfriend, Carl, ever seemed wrong, primarily because he hardly ever listened to her.

Carl always cut her in the middle of whatever she was saying.  She was always submissive; she could never bring herself to tell him she felt bad for fear that he might leave her. Why she even needed Carl, she had no idea, but the one thing she knew was that she didn’t want to lose him.

Speedy knew that the relationship wasn’t healthy for her, but she kept at it out of sheer persistence. They’ve been together for quite a while, and she didn’t want a sudden change that would break the rhythm of her day-to-day existence. She knew he wanted her because she was good enough to present to his family.

She wondered how they became the way they were when everything was perfect at the start. Flowers flooded her room each week, chocolates jammed her fridge, and little notes filled her box of mementos. Now there was nothing, but that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that she didn’t know what the problem was.

All of a sudden, Speedy felt a pang of guilt. She told Carl she was out with her mother. She didn’t want to tell him she was with Alex, the one person who listened to her when she had something to say, who never cut her in the middle of something she was saying.

Carl would never know, she thought. He lived in Alabang, and she knew he’d just be home. He was much easier to love from afar, and she cherished the distance.

At times she wondered why it wasn’t Alex she loved. She often asked herself why she’s even with Carl, who cheated on her twice in six months and even had blamed her for it. She never got any answers. She didn’t know what was going to happen next, and in spite of herself, she felt that not knowing was not such a great thing after all.

Speedy wanted badly to throw her long, slender arms at Alex, hold him tight and just cry. They were, after all, just a couple of slobs who loved people who can’t love them back completely. She was in union with him for this reason. She felt like his sister, a twin, even, and she dreaded the coming rain that threatened to take him away.

Alex wanted to know what she was thinking about; he was about to ask her when a peek at her bulbous brown eyes betrayed what he already knew – Carl. He hated his guts for not treating her well. To him, Speedy was a girl who had so much to give, so many interesting things to say, but she’s with a guy who never realized this.

A strange urge to protect her overcame him, the same thing he felt when his mother told him that Amy had cancer and that nothing but a miracle could save her. He felt a weird pain at the pit of his stomach. He told himself that it was bad lunch although he knew it was not.

He tried to say something, but there was a scarcity of words a degree in English Literature couldn’t help. Ella was blocking his thoughts in a way not too different from what Carl was doing to Speedy’s. She didn’t mind the silence, he noticed, and he appreciated it. Paranoid as she was, she didn’t mind when he was being quiet. She knew the reasons. And since she was in the same place, she perfectly understood.

“Do you think I should break up with him?” Speedy asked after a while.

Yes. “No.”

“Why not?”

“Do you love him?”

“I think so.”

“Then, no.” It was yet another lie to preserve order. He noticed that her eyes glinted a little when whatever was left of the sunlight that cloudy afternoon hit them, but a deep breath she took held the tears back. Alex thanked her in his head; he wasn’t in the mood to see anybody crying.

He really wanted to yell at her, tell her that her boyfriend wasn’t good enough for her. He knew she knew it, but he also knew it would upset her to hear it from him. Besides, he felt that he didn’t have the right to coach her, considering he, too, knew what he should do but was afraid to actually do something. He couldn’t bring himself to do it.

She lit another cigarette, her third in two hours. He reached out for one, himself, and lit it. Alternately they huffed and puffed, and he took pleasure in the rhythm they created together. She smoked orange menthols, stuff he hated as much as being glued to Ella. He took a puff of his own reds, which he loved as much as being glued to Ella.

Alex didn’t know what he chooses to stay in the relationship when he could walk out anytime he wished. But neither did Speedy have any idea why she held on to Carl, and with that in mind, Alex decided that he was, after all, normal.      

It was either that, or he just happened to share the artificiality of this so-called normalcy with someone, and that made things seem nothing out of the ordinary. At that moment he concluded that he would never know, that they would never know. It comforted him in a peculiar way.

“Should I end it?” Alex silently begged for the honesty he didn’t have in his answer when she asked the same question. He knew he wouldn’t get it.  Or so he thought.

“No.” Although she tried to look for hints of untruth in what she said, she couldn’t find any. It was her honest answer, and it surprised even her.

He had nothing to say. He had the ability to detect lying from Speedy, and this time was no different. She answered him honestly, but it wasn’t the kind of honesty he wanted, if there were kinds. He appreciated the no, but he wanted a yes. But it didn’t really matter. Her answer was insignificant; he knew that it was all up to him.

“I know I should end it.”

“You think you know but you don’t. You don’t know anything.” There was a trace of roughness in her voice, something that gave the statement more power than usual. It surprised him. Rarely does Speedy lose control of her tone.

Of course she was right. He really didn’t know; he realized it then. We know nothing, he thought, and the reason why we think and talk about what we do not know is to arrive at something. He suddenly felt smart, but he knew he still had to do some thinking. He wasn’t there yet. And neither was Speedy.

“If I do break up with him, will you be with me if I needed to cry?”

“Yes.” He hated seeing women cry, and he would especially hate seeing the woman beside him shed tears over a person like Carl. But he would never forgive himself if she had to do it alone. Amy never had to cry alone, and neither should Speedy.

Again he wondered if they were one and the same. The answer was one of the things he actually knew.

¤¤¤

Evening came and Carl still hasn’t called. She tried to think of possible reasons why he didn’t send her a text message or even tried to call. She thought his phone might have run out of juice. Perhaps he was out with his friends, or he was just sleeping.

She didn’t want to be the one to message him first; she was too proud. She wasn’t raised in a conservative setup where the guys always had to make the first move. That was just her best attempt at asserting herself.

It was around eleven in the evening when he called. He sounded drunk. And he was, after six shots of tequila and bottle after bottle of his favorite beer. “Hi, honey. How was your day?” He was mumbling so badly that she barely understood what he was saying.

“What did you say? Are you drunk?”

“I’m not drunk, just had a few drinks. How was your day, that’s what I was asking,” Carl repeated, this time a little clearer.

“Oh. It was fine. How was yours?”

“It was great. Just great. My Mom caught my Dad cheating.”

“I’m sorry to hear that.” She was not.

“I realized something today.” His voice was barely audible.

Her heart skipped a beat. She wondered if it were the end. “What is it?”

“I can’t tell you on the phone. I’m going there now.”

“You are? It’s almost midnight, you know,” she said. She wondered how important it was that he had to come and say it to her face.

“So?”

“What do you mean, ‘so?’ You’re drunk, you’re not even supposed to be driving.”

“Oh, I’m not driving, don’t worry too much.” He sounded like he was mocking her. She ignored it.

“In that case, I’ll wait up for you.”

“Okay. Bye,” Carl, said, and then he hung up. He didn’t even wait for her to respond. Speedy grew anxious. She had a lot of ideas as to what he wanted to say, but she wasn’t sure of anything. All she knew was that it had to be important; it must be if he couldn’t put it off until morning.

As she waited for him to arrive, she walked out to their garden and lit a cigarette. The familiarity of the taste calmed her. She always loved menthols, and it was good that everyone in her house shared this sentiment. She never ran out of cigarettes when she was at home; she just had to open any drawer in the living room and she would find a fresh pack and a lighter.

Hers was a cool home; she was allowed to do whatever she wanted. She could smoke and she could drink. She could have sex as long as she didn’t get pregnant; her Mom even bought a box of Durex condoms, which she put in the first aid kit for easy access. It was a weird and hip family, and she didn’t know if she should be grateful.

She was still engrossed in her own thoughts when the doorbell rang. Speedy rushed to the gate and opened it. Carl was standing there, obviously drunk. She let him in, and his chauffeur stayed in the car. She feared he might throw up any minute, so she decided against letting him in the house.

Instead, she led him to the gazebo in the garden. She instantly regretted it when she remembered that that was the place he first professed his undying love for her, which she accepted. It seemed so real at the time. But they were already there, and she noticed he was too drunk to keep moving.

Once he was settled on one of the chairs, she asked him why he had come. He mumbled a response that was barely audible.

But she understood. She understood perfectly. She just didn’t know why she didn’t feel anything.

Speedy went inside her house to make him some coffee. As she worked the French press, she thought about Alex and what he would say. She wondered if he would be mad, or if he would be relieved, or both.

A few minutes later, she brought out a hot mug of decaffeinated coffee with hazelnut creamer and sugar-free sweetener. Hers was a family of diabetics, with three people already six feet under because of it. Carl drank the freshly brewed coffee little by little, and after a while, he was sober enough to walk to his car. She walked him there, not because she was concerned. She had to lock the gate.

Carl thanked her for everything, kissed her lightly on the cheek, and left for good. “Asshole,” she thought as she watched him walk away. But she wasn’t angry. She wasn’t even sad.

Speedy simply couldn’t feel anything, and it frightened her. She made herself a cup of coffee and went up to her room. She wanted to call Alex, but something stopped her. Instead, she turned on her laptop and started writing.

She wrote best when coffee and cigarettes accompanied her. After an hour or so of writing, she posted it on an amateur literary website. In less than twenty minutes, the piece already had reviews. Positive ones, at that.

The feedback made her feel good for a while. But a pang of loneliness gripped her. She knew it wasn’t because of the breakup; she had felt deserted by Carl even before that night. It was definitely something else, but she didn’t know what it was.

Not wanting to think anymore, Speedy rummaged through her stuff for the latest stash of Valiums she got from Alex. She popped one and in a few minutes, she was off to Never Land.

¤¤¤

The following morning was a blur despite the routine. Alex knew he was where he ought to be, but nothing felt right. He had to do something; he just didn’t know what it was. He would never know.

His phone rang in the middle of his pathetic lunch. It was Ella. He thought of not answering it, but his curiosity got the better of him. She seldom called at that hour.

“Hello?”

“It’s me.”

“Yeah, um, why are you calling?”

“Is it such a bad thing?”

“No, it’s just…”

“I miss you.” The three words seared through his overworked brain and halted all information processing for a few seconds.

The Reuben he ingested felt like it could go right back up. He treasured those words and yet they scared him a lot. He wanted to hear them, but he knew that what he wanted weren’t always best for him.

“Are you still there?” Ella’s voice was brimming with irritation. Silence was not the response she expected from him when she went out of her way to tell him that she missed him.

“Yeah, sorry,” he muttered. Think, his mind screamed at itself. “I was just a little, well, surprised, that’s all.”

“Okay. I’ll see you tonight, then. Pick me up at eleven-thirty.” Then she hung up without saying goodbye. It made him think twice about picking her up. But he had to, he just didn’t know why. It was one of the things he hated and craved at the same time.

Alex suddenly remembered Speedy’s crazy theory. She thought he didn’t want to end it because he craved the excitement, the craziness that’s in it. When he wasn’t with her, he spent Saturday nights at home doing nothing. But with her, he spent most Saturday nights at home thinking about what she’s doing with her ex when she’s supposed to be with him. It made little sense, but it was sense nonetheless.

He thought about it some more. Ella did like going out with her ex even if she told him he treated her badly. When he thought about it, he realized she wasn’t too different from Speedy and him. He briefly considered bringing her with him once to meet the reincarnation of his Amy. But he knew it was a bad idea and dismissed it immediately.

The little club they had, which she liked to think of as a bad rip-off of the Dead Poets’ Society, cannot accommodate Ella. This was one of the many cases when romantic love complicated things. He decided that he should keep what he shared with Speedy between them.

Besides, Ella might get jealous. Of course she doesn’t have reason to be, but he didn’t want to have to explain to her what happened to his sister. Thinking about it overwhelmed him, more so talking about it.

With his meal steadily being digested, he stood up and slowly walked to his next class. He took a detour to the library, where Speedy always was. As expected, she was there. She was alone. Figuring he had ample time to spare, he sat beside her. She tore her eyes away from the book she was reading, or at least staring at, when she felt the pressure on the plastic bench.

“Hey,” she said weakly.

“Why are you alone?” Alex asked, and he immediately knew that it was the wrong thing to say. Her big eyes spontaneously welled with tears, and he promptly reached for the white handkerchief he always had in his pocket but never used.

Speedy cried quietly; she didn’t wail or whine as her tears rolled down her cheeks, which were already bright pink. “It’s over. He broke up with me.”

He was not surprised by this revelation. He was actually waiting for this day to come. Carl was a bigger jerk than he was, and he loathed him even more. That was all he could ever do.

“You know why I’m crying?”

“Um, I don’t know. Is it because he beat you to the punch?”

“No, but let’s not rub that in.”

Jerk, he thought to himself. “I’m sorry. Why?”

“Because I loved him, and I remembered it when I saw you.”

She did not wait for him to ask for an explanation; the expression on his face showed his desire to hear one right away. “I guess you helped me love him more, you know. It’s strange, but it’s as if you were there to fill whatever he lacked. He never listened, you did. You made me feel as though nothing was missing.

“That was wrong, of course. I used you in that sense. I hope you know that’s not all I’m after. I mean, we’re friends. I’m really sorry; I didn’t mean to do that to you.” She took a deep breath and she looked at Alex, who was staring at her with an expression that was either of anger or disbelief.

Relief flooded Speedy when he smiled and embraced her. You will always have me, he wanted to say, but he decided against it. It was too cheesy, even for that crying moment. Besides, she might get the wrong message.

“Thank you for making it easier for me to love him. I loved him more with you around. It hurt a lot, but ironically, I feel much better about it. I mean, it didn’t work out, but that was beyond my control. At least I could say that I gave it my best shot.” She had stopped crying.

Speedy looked calm and collected, which was far from what she felt. She was hurt by the breakup, and there was no point in denying that. But it wasn’t just the split that bothered her. She was thinking about Alex, as well.

She looked at her watch. It was almost one-thirty. “Don’t you have class?”

“Free cut,” he lied. He didn’t want to go to class. He wanted to sit beside her and make sure she’s okay. He couldn’t fathom why she was grateful to him when, simply put, he was an accessory to her personal pain. This was one of those times he didn’t understand her.

“Do you want to go for a drive?” He nodded and they stood up. “I’m parked at the open field.” They walked to the parking lot in silence, a comfortable one. They were drowning in their respective thoughts. They both had a plethora of questions, but answers were scant.

They were already in Katipunan Avenue when Speedy decided to say something. “I hope you weren’t offended with what I said.”

“No, not at all,” he assured her.

“It’s just that, you were always there whenever he wasn’t. So thanks a lot; you’re the reason I got out of the whole thing sane.”

“Sure.” The curt response initiated a long silence Alex later broke. “There is one thing I need to know, though.”

“What is it?”

“Why did you thank me if it hurt?” He paused and watched her shift gears while thinking of a response. They were now running at 82kph, which was very typical of Speedy. “You said I helped you love him more, and it hurt, so I don’t understand why you’re not blaming me instead.”

She slowed to a stop at an intersection. “Love is a lot like sex,” she began. “The deeper you go, the more pleasure you derive from it. But it can be painful to get there, so at times you use a lubricant.

“You were kind of that lubricant.” They both chuckled at what she said.

When their laughter finally subsided, Alex thought about what she said. Is this the same case with Ella? He asked more questions with each unanswered one. Questions were, after all, the only things he had.

¤¤¤

Alex picked her up at eleven fifteen in the evening. Ella was already at the lobby of her office building, and she was fuming mad. It never crossed her mind that she’d told him she gets off at eleven-thirty, and that he was actually early.

As his car sped through the streets of Quezon City, he rehearsed the big speech in his head. He wanted to tell her that he hated it when she went out with her ex, and that it wasn’t fair to him because he committed himself to her and she should at least try to reciprocate. He organized his thoughts as he shifted gears and took U-turns.

He didn’t want to end whatever they had; that much he knew. But he didn’t want all things to stay the same, either. Massive changes were in order.  He didn’t want to upset her with the things he wanted to say, but Speedy pointed out to him that sometimes people need to get upset in order to realize things.

“I wish you could commit to me the way I commit to you. I wish you’d just tell me what you want. I wish you make up your mind once and for all. I wish I didn’t have to share you with anyone else.” While mentally practicing his lines, Alex desperately hoped he would actually be able to say them.


At the end of the night, however, as she soundly slept beside him after making love, he stared at the ceiling and wondered why he was never able to say anything. It wasn’t such great sex although it wasn’t too bad, he thought. He had everything in order, and he knew how he ought to say them.

But he still managed to say nothing when he needed to, when he had the chance to. He held her tightly and tried to think about what Speedy would probably say if he told her what happened. He made a mental note to ask her, and then he tried to sleep. The attempt at a nap was as futile as the attempt to tell Ella how he felt.

He got out of bed and went to the balcony with a pack of cigarettes and the hotel’s complimentary matches in hand. He was completely naked, but he couldn’t care less. He was on the fourteenth floor, and it was probably two in the morning. He didn’t feel cold; it was, after all, a summer night.

Alex smoked practically half the pack in an hour. He was thinking about a lot of things, one of them was Speedy. He was nervous about her. He knew he didn’t have to be, as she had shown incredible resilience in situations worse than the one she was in at the moment.

That fact was not enough to reassure him. He was still worried.

After another stick of Camel cigarettes, however, he realized that what he needed to worry about was himself. He went back inside and lied down next to Ella, who was still sleeping.

¤¤¤

“You should ask her what you guys are doing,” she said as she munched on her favorite hamburger – the Whopper. “I mean, you’re banging each other and you don’t know where you are.”

“It’s not that easy.”

“Nothing ever is.” There was a sense of finality in Speedy’s voice, as though what she really meant to say was drop the subject. She changed practically overnight, but an untrained eye would not be able to detect this change. She was still wearing all the same clothes and moving about in the same carefree manner, but there were differences.

Speech was one, patience, or lack of, another. Something happened to her, and he immediately concluded that the breakup was the cause. He knew she was still thinking about it. It was pretty recent, after all. What he didn’t know was that it was more than the separation. There was something bothering her, but neither of them knew what it was for sure.

The transformation scared him. He feared losing her; she was his only contact with the real world, and with Amy. Alex wanted to ask her if she’s okay, but he didn’t. Instead he waited for her to open up. He said a silent prayer of thanks when she did.

“I don’t know where to start,” she said.

“Start with what, exactly?”

“Rebuilding. I feel like the Chicago Bulls after Michael Jordan retired.” He immediately understood what she meant even though he never really watched basketball.

“How about thinking about what you want?”

“Tried that.”

“And?”

“No idea.”

“Oh.” Alex realized it was going to be harder than usual. Not only did he not have anything concrete to suggest, Speedy also seemed to have built a wall around her. But she looked great, for some reason. He didn’t know if it was just him or if it really was blush on her cheeks.

He gave up trying to figure it out and went back to thinking of what she could do to start the rebuilding process. “Play tennis?”

“I did this morning, and I felt great until after I came out of the shower.” He finally knew where the cheek color was from, and he was comforted by the fact that she wasn’t wallowing in self-pity. She’s thinking of a way out, or at least trying to, and that’s a start.

“Well, you could keep doing that for now. Or you could just find a new sport or something.” He had not the slightest idea what could help her.

“You want to know something weird?” Speedy asked.

“What?”

“I could hardly feel anything anymore. I mean, I didn’t feel a thing when he called it off. It hurt a lot yesterday, when I saw you. But now, there’s nothing.”

“That’s strange.”

“What do you think should I do? I think I’m pretty messed up.”

“I really don’t know what to tell you.”

Speedy nodded not because she understood but because she didn’t. She couldn’t understand why, for the first time, he couldn’t help her out. “Let’s drink tonight.”

“I’m broke,” he said. It wasn’t true; he had more than enough money to buy them liquor. He was saving up for a trip to Hong Kong with Ella.

“I’ve money for alcohol; we could drink it at your place. Is that okay?”

“What’s wrong with your place?” He was fond of the gazebo in their garden.

“Mom’s having a party. What do you say?”

Alex said yes. It was arranged that he would pick her up at seven in the evening. They both went to class after a while.

Speedy’s Theology classroom was in the building adjacent to his, so he walked her there before going to his class. It was her favorite subject that semester because her professor was the legendary Father Dacanay, and he hoped that he could make her feel better by bombarding her with new information.

During Philosophy, as his professor tried to make sense out of Martin Heidegger’s writings, Alex wondered how she would handle things. She seemed okay, but she was cold. Will he lose her as he lost Amy? He was frightened at the mere thought of it.

He concentrated on what the teacher was saying. “When you ask ‘what is philosophy?’ you are already philosophizing. Philosophy is the only thing you can practice while asking what it is,” he discussed.

It was very interesting, but his professor forgot something else. When you ask ‘what is asking a question?’ you are already experiencing it as well. He wanted to raise this point in class, but decided against it at the last second. Instead, he just patiently waited for the bell to ring.

¤¤¤

At seven sharp, Alex was at the gate of Speedy’s house. There were plenty of luxury cars parked in the spacious driveway, which betrayed the company her mother keeps. He even recognized one car; it belonged to his uncle, who was a high-profile politician.

He was somewhat comforted and all the while threatened by the realization that the world isn’t as big as it once was.

Less than a minute after calling her from his mobile phone, Speedy came out, dressed in her usual tank top, jeans and flip-flops. With her right hand she clutched her wallet and mobile phone. She didn’t even have a bag.

They drove in silence. It was unbearable, but no one had the strength to at least say something. He hated it, but all he could do at that moment was hope that things would get lighter once they’ve both had their fill of alcohol.

Alex guessed she was thinking about Carl. He wanted to tell her that she should stop subjecting herself to pain. Not wanting to be labeled a hypocrite, he opted to keep his mouth shut throughout the drive.

He stopped in front of Ralph’s, a popular wine and liquor store. It was one of his favorite places, mainly because the drinks were sold at relatively low prices. He thought of opening a shop like that when he graduates. But he realized it wasn’t such a great idea, as he would probably just consume everything himself.

Speedy paid for the tall bottle of Grey Goose Vodka, as well as for a few bags of plain potato chips. He marveled at her dead tongue; she hated cheese, she hated mayonnaise, and she hated flavored potato chips. He wondered how anyone could not eat cheese. He knew why she hated it, so he didn’t see the point of asking her again.

They got back in the car and drove to Alex’s place, which was twenty minutes away, or ten if Speedy took the wheel. He couldn’t stand the silence any longer, so he decided to play some of their favorite tunes. Latin jazz filled the car, and the two were thankful for the distraction. Still not talking, the background music made things tolerable.

When they finally got to his place, it was already eight o’clock in the evening. Speedy was relieved that the silence would be over. She knew that the liquor would break the ice, and so did he. They went up to his room and started drinking.

Grey Goose worked like a charm in loosening the two up. Halfway through the bottle, Alex reached out to hold Speedy’s hand in his. She was surprised by this gesture and so was he, but neither of them showed it. When she was starting to feel, she let herself lean on his shoulder.

As she closed in, Alex took hold of her and kissed her. Not pulling away, she kissed him back. They were two very passionate and very different kissers, enjoying the same kiss they could hardly feel.

The alcohol kept them numb, and the lack of sensation stayed with them for hours, lulling them to sleep. When Speedy woke up, she couldn’t account for the pain in her limbs or her nudity.

“Oh my God,” she uttered in a quiet, fearful voice as she nudged him on the shoulder. “Alex, wake up.”

“Hey,” he said. He was still half-asleep.

“Something happened,” she urged. “Did we really?”

“I think so,” Alex replied, not knowing how to react. He tried to sit up, but he was sore all over. He could hardly move, but he felt good. He couldn’t recall all the grisly details, but he remembered the intense conclusion. “Yes. Yes, we did.”

Speedy sat up. “What now?” She sounded worried.

“I don’t know. Lie next to me,” he said as he patted the bed space to his left.

She obeyed. “Do you think this will change things?”

“Yes.”

“I’m not sure I want this.”

He hesitated before he responded. “Neither am I.”

Speedy sighed. “I really don’t know what’s going happen now.”

“Nobody knows what’s going to happen. That’s what makes things so great.”

She smiled to herself when he said this. “That’s my line,” she said.

¤¤¤

Epilogue

Armed with two bottles of Fiji water, Speedy sat on the wooden armchair beside the couch where Alex was comfortably lying down. She put a bottle on the Formica table in front of her and took a swig from the one she still held.

The rush of cold that went through her dry throat was a relief. He drank a mouthful of water, himself, and then lit cigarettes for him and Speedy. She took it from his hand and said thank you. He just nodded a welcome.

It has been three days since they last saw each other. He had just returned from Hong Kong, where he spent the weekend with Ella. Alex paid for everything with the money he had been saving for months. They had an amazing time walking around the city, shopping, and sampling the food.

Alex hoped that the trip would change everything between him and Ella, but when the weekend was over, he realized he expected too much. After he brought her home, she almost immediately got dressed for a date with her ex-boyfriend.

It was at that point that he grasped the truth that nothing will ever change. He drove to Speedy’s to tell her everything that happened.

“So that’s it. I’m back in the shit hole where I always was, am, will be. I feel so bad.”

“After forty thousand bucks, yeah, I would feel bad, myself,” she responded.

“No, it’s not about the money,” he retorted. “I thought the trip would change things, but no. The minute we landed, she was thinking of what to wear for her other date. I think it’s totally unfair, not just to me, but also to the other guy, if you think about it. Not that I care about him or anything.

“And fine, I could have saved a small fortune, too.”

“You should just drop it, you know. It’s perfectly understandable if you choose to call it off. It’s not like she’s doing much to make you want to hold on to her,” Speedy said. “This is the first and the last time I’m going to say this, so listen well. She doesn’t deserve you. You need to leave her.”

She thought about the night they slept together, which happened exactly a week before that day. It dawned on her that she, too, didn’t deserve him. She wondered if anybody deserved him at all. He was a good guy.

Alex tried to digest what she said. Again, she was right, and he knew it. What he still found hard to believe was that he was back to being second fiddle after Hong Kong. He knew he should end whatever they had, but a part of him still wanted to hold on to Ella.

It wasn’t love that was driving him. It was pride. He wanted to keep going because he wanted to prove to himself that he could be more, that he is more. He knew that this was the wrong reason, but he believed it was valid. Validity, after all, is different from political correctness. “I don’t know. I’m so tired.”

“I know,” she uttered. “So, tell me. Do I owe you a bottle of cognac?”

He flashed a wide grin. He remembered the bet they had months before. If Ella would call it off first, he had to buy Speedy a bottle of Bailey’s Irish Cream. If he called it off first, Speedy had to buy him a bottle of cognac. “Not yet. She still might beat me to it.”

“I wish she does,” Speedy said. “I mean, that way, you wouldn’t feel too bad about how things turned out. I know you – if you call it off, you’d feel as though you haven’t done enough. You’re the perpetual masochist; you always subject yourself to melodramatic episodes and all that bullshit.”

Speedy knew it wasn’t the polite thing to say, so she hoped to at least be right. But she realized she could have phrased it better, so she just added, “Actually, I’m just broke. But then again, so are you.”

Alex smiled inwardly. He knew he wanted it to be over; he just didn’t want to be blamed.

With that thought, the word causality popped in his head, and he knew that he, too, was to blame. He used to tell Speedy all the time that it’s everybody’s. But now that he was telling himself, he wouldn’t believe him.

Silence enveloped the two as their minds drifted off to space. He was trying to think of a way out. She was trying to think of what he was thinking, and concluded it was Ella. She was right, of course. She wasn’t a mind reader; it was just too obvious.

A surplus of emotions flooded her – sadness, happiness, anxiety, and even relief. It was a peculiar mix, she knew, but there was nothing she could do to stop it.

She averted her gaze from the white smoke she breathed out to the man in front of her. A week ago, they slept together. Now it’s as if nothing happened.

Speedy was comforted that they stayed the same despite the magnitude of what they had done. “I have news for you.”

“What?”

“Carl wants me back.”

“Really? What did you say?”

“I said I’d think about it.”

“What do you plan to do?”

“I plan to make him wait as long as possible.”

“And then what?”

“Then say no.” They laughed at this.

She wondered why she hardly felt anything for Carl anymore. She wasn’t even mad at him, and this scared her. It scared her because she didn’t know if she was just good at compartmentalizing, or if she was becoming desensitized altogether.

Nevertheless, she felt oddly powerful, and she felt that it corrupted her. She wondered how long it would last.

Speedy looked at the moon. It beamed on them in all its glory. She stared at it and wondered how it felt to be up there, to be extremely beautiful and to be extremely lonely at the same time. She knew how it felt to be lonely, and she never felt it more than at that moment, when she was with Alex.

She thought about Alex, too. She did sleep with him, after all. She told him everything there is to know about her. But she knew that there was nothing more to whatever they shared.

It was definitely not love, and the friendship angle has already been blurred. But aside from knowing what it is not, she had absolutely no idea what it is.

But she knew she didn’t want anything more. She didn’t need anything more.

Alex looked at her as she kept staring at the full moon. It was the thousandth time he looked at her, and the first time he saw her.

She was not the reincarnation of his sister. She was not a fuck buddy. She was not some girl off the street. She was not the best friend he never had.

She wasn’t anything.

And then he realized, at around the same time she did, he, too, was nothing.

isawisay

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