Jeco looked at himself in the mirror. He spotted something wrong with his eyes; it was proclaiming a sense of apprehension, squirming whenever he looked straight at them. Shy eyes, he thought. But he could not flatter himself too much as to hide how he really felt. He was indeed hesitant about something. He was inside the men’s room of a known restaurant, and just a few steps away, Stephanie was waiting for him to return to their table.
He had excused himself two minutes ago when he felt there was something suffocating in the air. Maybe it was the wine, he reasoned. No. It couldn’t be the wine. He had had more alcohol in one night before. There was only one other logical reason why he suddenly felt his world turned faster than it ought to. It was Stephanie.
She was intoxicating. And that made up for all the mysteries he was experiencing. He secretly took a peek out into the dining area from the small opening in the door. From afar he could see her. She wore nothing more than a simple shirt, a pair of jeans that fit nicely with her stunning figure, and that indelible smile of hers that seem to be just pasted on her lips. The sight made Jeco’s heart skip a beat. “What the hell am I doing here?”
Jeco remembered her from as far back as his high school days. It was a story to tell his grandchildren. He was a greenhorn then, a nobody, in a school where you first learn how to run before you learn how to walk. She was a somebody; everyone wanted to have a piece of her. He was walking back to his classroom one fine day in July when perchance he decided to walk through the canteen and up the stairs to the second floor. She, perhaps also by chance, decided to take the same way coming down from the second floor. He met her; she didn’t mind him. Jeco stood there half spellbound as she walked down the stairs, with her hair laid down and blowing in a sudden gush of wind like the kind you see on scripted Hollywood movies. Only this was real life, or surreal life for Jeco. Time seemed to have moved in slow motion and everything suddenly burst with colorful auras. Then as suddenly as it had come, the moment was over. She walked past him, and a brush of her hair against his right shoulder was enough trophy for him, a trophy he cannot display.
Jeco straightened his shirt, unbuttoned the topmost button, stroked his hair one last time, took a deep breath and opened the door. I’m ok now, I think, he said to himself. He walked slowly towards Stephanie waiting at the table. “Are you ok? You took so long in there… I was worried you might have felt sick or something.” She was being polite. Knowing her, he would have half expected a more teasing remark. “Am ok. I just needed some… a…” He tried to suppress the words “fresh air” from coming out of his mouth because where he just came from she surely would die laughing if she heard those words. He frantically searched his vocabulary for something that would fit what it was that he needed in the men’s room. “…cold water for my face.” And he was saved.
“Would you care for some more wine?” he offered her. “No, but thanks. I’m really not a big drinker, you know that! Wait, are you trying to get me drunk again?”
He knew exactly what she meant. A smile started sprouting on Jeco’s face when he remembered the last time they went drinking. It all started nicely, like both of them were pretending it was a date of sorts. But it was not. It was just two friends out for the night in the city. They watched a movie, had coffee, and powered by a dare, they tried the rides in a known amusement park. At three in the morning they bought a couple of beers and consumed it by the bay, while sharing each other’s life story. It was an intimate moment indeed; both telling tales one never thought would be sharing. While the pages of their history were being laid down, the alcohol in the beer was taking its toll on a girl with very low tolerance for it. Stephanie was drunk before the last bottle was even half empty. And she only had two. Jeco almost had to carry her back to the car and into her apartment. But she managed, saving some grace for herself. He swore he’d never seen her like that before, and would love to see her again in the same state. And it was purely for fun.
“No, I wouldn’t want to have to carry you again!” and a chorus of laughter between the two of them ensued.
“So, what was it again that you wanted to say to me? You did have something to say right? That’s why you asked me out…” Jeco thought he heard bells ringing, and a spotlight was directed at him, like it was time for him to answer the jackpot question in a noontime game show. If only it was a matter of choosing between the money and the box, life would have been simpler. But no, it was a beautiful girl in front of him asking him to reveal a secret that up until now he never had a chance to tell her. He wanted to, but only now did courage decide to accompany him.
“Well… I think you’re wonderful…and I’d just want to ask you something… would you like to…” The bells rang again. This time, they sounded very familiar. Jeco suddenly snapped into reality when he realized it was her cell phone that sounded off.
“Oh! Excuse me… I’m sorry, but I have to take this call…” Stephanie politely turned the other way. Jeco thought it was because she didn’t want him to hear whom she was talking to, or what they were talking about. It was none of his business anyway. But curiosity took the better of him, and he carefully leaned over a little. In mumbled words he heard her say, “…oh that’s so sweet of you…I’ll be home soon, ok?…yeah, bye, love you!”
Jeco felt the opportune moment to tell her that he liked her and how he always thought of her slipped past him and out into the front door. It was like the host of his imaginary noontime show telling him, time is up! He knew he had lost much. But she was polite. She pretended she didn’t notice, and Stephanie reached out for his hand on the table and softly said, “you were saying?”
The spotlight was back on him again. But realization took the best of him. Even if he did say it, it wouldn’t matter. It dawned on him, with just that very recently concluded phone call of hers, that he had absolutely no clue what he was about to get himself into; and that this was entirely simply a high school infatuation. “I just wanted to ask you if you would like to…to…join our company party this coming Friday.”
He felt his lie seething through the grits of his teeth. He felt his heart burst little by little. He had no other choice. He judged that this friendship with her is a great treasure, and he would not in any way attempt to ruin it with something so selfish as him saying he loves her.
“Hey. No man takes a girl out to a fancy dinner just to ask her if she could come to a company party. You should have known me better than that to think I wouldn’t know. But I do know. Do you want to talk?”
It was like his secret was out. She was psychic, he thought. Either that or she had very good investigating team working for her. She simply was a girl who knew him too much, and one that could not be lied to. She is his best friend. She is her love. She is he. All these he thought under an eye that cannot look up to meet hers. And she continued…
“Look, you’ve been so nice to me. You’ve been everything that a woman could ever want from a man. There’s nothing I wouldn’t want more from you. You’re my best friend. But…” she picked up her cellular phone, and showed it to him. “…that was my son. He’s waiting for me tonight. He said he can’t sleep, and I have to be there. I hope that explains it. I’m not really good with words…”
“What did I say? Look, if I said or did something to upset you, I’m sorry already. I was just simply trying to… a… invite you.” He pushed his lips to conjure a timid smile, unsure if such an action might break some ice. She smiled back, but with head bowed down and looking in a different direction from his. It was enough, and a feeling of contentment settled down within him. “Steph…”
She raised her head a bit, and her eyes looked at him. From his viewpoint she was intrepidly charming, almost disturbingly. He cannot afford to buy one more reason for him to fall in love with her. What he has right now is enough. So he looked away.
“I was wondering. I know we’ve been through so long, did some things we both didn’t even imagine we could do. You know I like you. But… do you like me enough to make you happy?” It was a shot in the dark. Her answer could make or break him. He was at her mercy. He felt weak in the knees, and a sudden need to excuse himself to the men’s room surged in his will. With loud thumps, his heart raced as cold sweat began to form in his forehead. He was never this nervous before, even with a hundred cups of coffee.
“Yes…” she replied, fumbling with her fork. “Too happy in fact, that I don’t want to ruin it by letting you be like this.”
Jeco wiped the sweat from his forehead with a napkin from the table. He knew that a victory in this situation would be short lived, and wouldn’t be so sweet.
“Would you let me continue making you happy then? You know how I feel about you. I don’t have to say it, you just know. And I’m spending all of my energy just so this courage of mine could be here for me to ask you this. Will you let me make you happy? Would you let me in to your life?” That was it, the culmination of this night, the question that had been waiting to pop. His adrenalin had done their part, and his heart is overworking.
“I don’t come alone. I have a son. I don’t want to burden you with him. You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into, and I suggest you stop before you even start.” She was near tears. Jeco offered her a napkin. He could see little crystals of tears forming in her eyes, bickering to fall. He reached for her hand, held them and gently squeezed then tight.
“I know. I want you, all of you. I’ll do my best to continue making you happy. And little James could use somebody to play with.” He smiled, amusing her and himself. “Just say yes, Stephanie.”
“Yes!” she answered with a burst of happy laughter amidst the tears in her cheeks. Jeco knew she was for real. And the two of them glimmered with a blissful look, even if faced with the uncertainty of tomorrow.
“So, what’s the first thing you want to do in our new life?” Jeco asked teasingly, as he leaned over to give her a kiss on the forehead.
Still sporting her vicious smile, and her indelible charm, she said, “Let’s have dessert…”