She was near tears, I could tell. But she tried her best to keep them at bay. Maybe it was because she did not want to ruin the face that her makeup artist had spent hours on perfecting. But it would not have mattered even if she had ruined the makeup. It would not have mattered even if there had been no makeup at all in the first place. She would still have been the most beautiful bride in the world, regardless.
For someone who was such a crybaby, she was really good at holding back. I wish I had her restraint. My own eyes were like the Niagara Falls right now. But how could I help it? No amount of willpower would have won against the power of the beauty that hushed the crowd the moment the wooden doors were thrown open. And as she walked – no, floated – closer towards me, I wondered how I could have been so lucky, to have her in my life for the rest of it. I also wondered how I could ever have not been struck by her beauty from the very beginning.
~Three Years Ago~
I cursed myself for the nth time that morning. I couldn’t believe that I was late on my first day at work. When I reached the room the receptionist had pointed out for me, I eased the door open and found seven pairs of eyes looking at me. I didn’t know which emotion was stronger – the embarrassment of being stared at by strangers, or the relief that at least it didn’t look like the meeting – or whatever it was that happened on first days at work – had begun yet.
I walked towards the end of the table they occupied and pulled myself into a chair. I pushed my glasses up the bridge of my nose and looked up to find seven pairs of expectant eyes on me.
“Hi I’m Nicholas,” said the big guy at the other end.
“Gerry,” I replied, introducing myself by nickname. Everyone down the line followed suit. I nodded at each of them, trying to remember all of their names, something I was very bad at. Lennie, Benedict, Bree, Angel, Tina, Kelly. I wondered which among them I would click with.
Nicholas looked old, like he was a family man. Our age and priorities would probably drive a gap between us. Lennie looked strict, like she could bite my head off if I said something wrong. Benedict, I was almost sure was gay. Nothing in common there. Bree was way too friendly and loud. I didn’t like her. Angel was a simple beauty whose name fitted her. She was probably a bore, as most goody-two-shoes are. Tina had just gotten married. Kelly was a mestiza who wore a lot of makeup. She was probably not only vain, but bitchy as well.
Great. It looked as though I wasn’t gonna have any close friends in this group.
A week later, I clutched my stomach as I leaned over the cafeteria table. It was lunch time and my stomach hurt – from too much laughing. Had it only been a week that I had known these people? It felt as though I had known them forever. Save for that first few hours on that first day, there was no awkward moment at all. We instantly clicked and connected, like pieces of a magnetic puzzle, if there was such a thing.
Nicholas wasn’t a dad and wasn’t even a husband – far from being one, from the way he kept inviting us to go out and have a night life. I was right about Lennie being strict, but she was also sweet. She was a lot older than she looked, but she acted her age when it came to taking care of us. Benedict was indeed gay, but he (or she) was not noisy to the point of embarrassment. Bree’s jokes were what cracked everyone up over lunch and bonded us. Angel was not as “nice” as I initially thought her to be, which was refreshing, because nobody likes a saint. Tina, who was pregnant and initially denied it because she got scared that the company would not hire her if that were the case, did not act like your average Stepford wife at all. She was as funny and loud as Bree, though her jokes were more inclined to be green. Kelly was the unica hija of a rich couple who had every right to act like a spoiled brat, but she was very nice and down to earth. Right now her voice boomed loud, like a man’s. Strangely, it was not a turn off, as it would have been if it had been any other girl. This one imperfection made her seem more real, more reachable.
“Kulas!” she yelled in that voice as were walking back to our office.
“My nickname is not Kulas, it’s Nick,” Nicholas argued.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Kulas fits you better,” Kelly insisted. We all laughed and started yelling Kulas. I knew then that he was going to be stuck with that nickname.
“Kulas, when was the last time you washed that vest?” Kelly went on, referring to the black wool vest that Nicholas had been wearing for an entire week now.
“I like this vest,” Nicholas said defensively. “It keeps me warm.”
“I’m not saying that there’s something wrong with the vest,” Kelly explained. “Just…wash it once in a while, you know? And while you’re at that, maybe you can wear a watch that’s not too tight.” We all cracked up at poor Nicholas’s expense.
“Just kidding, Kulas!” Kelly apologized, hugging him. Then she looked around at all of us and said, “But you know what, guys? I’m so happy when I’m with you. We do so many things when we’re together. I didn’t have friends like these in my previous company.”
My sentiments exactly.
“Well, tomorrow we’re gonna have so much fun doing something again. I talked to someone from HR and he said that he has assigned all of us to the same villa,” Lennie said. Tomorrow we were joining the company team building, an overnight event to be held in Subic. Looks like we were hired just in time for this. Could we get any luckier?
The next day, my new friends lounged on our beachfront villa’s porch deck and on the sand. I grabbed my camera and walked closer to the shore, trying to capture the magnificence of the view before me – a hazy magenta ball dipping into a rippling bowl of saltwater soup. When I figured out the best settings, I turned to another direction to take more shots. It was then that I took my best shot of the day – a woman with her back to me, her hair blown backwards by the breeze, looking towards the rocks jutting out of the ocean. Kelly.
I walked in her direction.
“Hey,” she smiled when she saw me approaching.
“Look, a perfect shot,” I said, gesturing towards the picture I had taken of her.
“Wow,” she said, when she saw what I had done. Strangely, I felt warmed by her approval. I don’t know how many hours we spent standing on that shore, my camera dangling from my wrist, forgotten, as we talked about all topics under the sun, or should I say moon, because this was at night. Our conversation only got broken by Bree’s shrieking. Kelly started in their direction, and I was slightly annoyed at the interruption. Yet another strange feeling.
“What’s going on?” Kelly asked, when we had reached the others.
“We just saw this really cute guy, and his villa is right next to ours!” Bree explained, gesticulating towards the other villa.
“And you thought it would be prudent to create this much noise so that he’d be aware of this fact?” I asked, not able to mask the sarcastic tone.
“No, they left, but when they come back, we had better be prepared,” she replied, motioning for us to take our seats. My initial reaction was to say no, I’d rather go back to the shore, but Kelly had taken her up on her offer and was making herself comfortable next to Bree, and there was an empty seat beside her. I could still see the same view and feel the same breeze from here, I rationalized to myself as I filled up that seat.
We ended up talking till dawn. I suppose a bunch of people who had known each other for only a week would find plenty of stuff to talk about. Someone had asked the question, ‘what was the most romantic thing anyone ever did for you?’ Now it was Kelly’s turn, and I was curious as to what she would contribute. She was sure to say something interesting. I can imagine that a guy would pull all the stops for a girl like her.
“Once there was this guy who did something really romantic for me,” she began. “He picked me up in his car and we drove to his office because he said we needed to pick something up. When we got there, he asked me to get something from the trunk for him. When I opened it, balloons floated out, and there was a bouquet of flowers inside. When we got upstairs to his office, it was dark, and when he flipped the lights on, I saw that some space had been cleared for a cozy table with dinner for two. After we had eaten and he was bringing me home, we passed by the longest bridge in our place, which had been decorated with balloons tied to all the posts. Then we stopped in the middle and got out. There was a love letter tied to the balloon on the largest post.”
All stops pulled. As expected.
“Awww that’s so romantic!” Angel gushed. “Is he your boyfriend?”
“Well actually, he never became my boyfriend,” Kelly admitted somewhat sheepishly.
“Huh? Why? Wasn’t that enough?” Angel wondered.
“There just wasn’t any spark,” Kelly shrugged. At that moment, her gaze flickered briefly to meet mine, and I felt an involuntary shiver.
It was Bree again who interrupted my moment.”OMG! OMG! They’re back! That’s him!” she hissed, the last line meant for Kelly and me. I looked in the direction she was pointing.
“For a guy like him, I’d pull out all the stops,” Kelly murmured. The sparkle in her eyes could only mean one thing. The pang I felt upon seeing that, though, what did it mean?
“His name is Ivan,” I said, enjoying the play of expressions on their faces when I said that. “He’s in my department.”
“Wow! So have you talked to him? What’s he like?” Bree asked.
“Once, just the perfunctory ‘hi’ and ‘where did you work before?’ He does not seem to be the friendly talkative type,” I surmised.
“Yeah, he does seem to be suplado,” Kelly observed.
“But that adds to his appeal,” Angel pointed out. Everyone was quick to nod their assent.
“Well, the object of our affections has disappeared from sight, so I guess there’s no point in hanging out here,” Lennie announced. “Let’s get some sleep, guys.”
We all followed her lead into the villa and crammed ourselves into one of the two rooms, pushing the two queen-size beds together so that everyone would have room to sleep on. The air conditioning turned the room freezing, and the blankets were not big enough to cover everyone from top to bottom, so we had to sleep sidewaysa and huddled. Kelly was at my back, and she hugged me from behind, to get warmth. It was noisy (Nicholas snored so loudly) and crowded (Nicholas’s big belly took up way too much space) and could easily have been the worst night of my life, but I felt very comfortable in that heap and for the first time in who knows how long, I fell asleep with a smile on my face.
It was Monday, and we were having our usual group chat on Sametime, our company’s internal chat. “Hey guys, I’ve uploaded the pics. It’s in the shared drive inside the ‘friendz’ folder,” I typed.
“OMG he is so cute!” Bree commented after a minute.
“We’re a match, aren’t we?” Kelly said.
“Gerry, were you taking a picture of Ivan or Kelly? Her half face took up more space in this picture!” Benedict pointed out.
They were referring to the stolen shot I took of Ivan the day after the overnight. We had packed our bags and were walking towards the ferry when we had caught sight of Ivan. They wanted to have a picture of him. I did not want him to see me snapping his photo – we were in the same department; how would I ever speak to him again without being embarrassed? So Kelly pretended to pose like she was the one I was taking a picture of, when in reality, I was taking a picture of the guy behind her. I still ended up taking a picture of her, though. How could I not?
“Quick, let’s make this our desktop background!” Bree joked. They could do that for real, for all I care. I already had a new desktop background, one of the pics from the overnight too – the picture of Kelly looking out to the ocean.
“I already uploaded some of the pictures on my Friendster,” Kelly announced.
I was pleasantly surprised when I found that my new desktop background was now Kelly’s new primary picture. I remembered the day we added each other up on Friendster; it was our second day in the company. The first thing I noted was her status – in a relationship. What did I expect? Of course a girl that pretty would be. Today the status still remained the same. As if I expected anything to have changed so soon. Still, she had replaced her former primary picture – a photo of her and her boyfriend while they were in Baguio. Did that mean anything?
~Four Months Later~
“Happy monthsary!” Kelly greeted, throwing her arms around me. I returned her greeting and her hug.
“Hey, happy monthsary!” I said again when I saw Lennie and Bree approaching. It was the fourth month to the day since we had been hired. We always greeted each other on the 16th of the month. It just so happened that there was also a company party today, and we had just arrived at the venue, and we were lining up to get registered and pick our door prizes.
“You know, I’m always unlucky when it comes to raffle prizes,” Kelly complained.
“Me too! We probably won’t win the nice prizes, like the bean bags…or tummy trimmers… or Adidas caps,” I sighed as I looked at the objects I coveted. Kelly made a face when she saw someone win a pair of all-purpose kitchen scissors. “I’ll bet I’d get that,” I said. Sure enough, I did. Kelly won a yoga mat, and she was happy. Lennie and Bree got a casserole dish and a thermos, respectively. “Now we can go on a camping trip,” Bree joked, and we all laughed.
We were early, so we were able to grab an empty table for our group. After an hour of holding on to the table and shaking our heads at people who wanted to share it with us, I was slightly annoyed when I found out that some of our friends were not joining us after all. Nicholas, Angel, Benedict and Tina were part of the group chosen to represent our business unit in the company-wide contest and they had decided to sit with their fellow presentors at another table. Right before the program started, some guys from my department arrived and asked me if they could share our table with us. Since we had half an empty table, I agreed. I knew sharing wouldn’t be an issue with my friends either, since it meant they’d be sitting across the table from Ivan. Kelly pinched me.
I introduced my departmentmates to my batchmates, and made a mental note to remind them all later that they owe me big time. “I know I said how unlucky I am, but now I know how wrong I was! I am lucky!” Kelly whispered to me excitedly. I was happy that she was happy, but at the same time sad. Weird.
“So you and Marlon have really broken up?” Bree asked Kelly. I knew that this was a fresh topic that needed exploring, but did she really need to discuss this now? Infront of other people? Then I saw the sparkle in her eyes and realized that she was doing this on purpose. For Kelly’s sake.
“Yes, we really have,” Kelly replied.
“Why?” Lennie’s follow up question.
“The spark’s gone,” Kelly shrugged.
Just then, Winston tapped me on my shoulder and asked to talk to me. We moved away from our table. “We need some girls to ‘model’ for our presentation,” he explained to me. I wondered why this had anything to do with me. “Kulas told me that you’re Kelly’s closest friend and that you can talk her into doing this.” Ah. I walked back to the table after saying that I would give it a shot. Kelly was a knockout, but for some reason, she lacked confidence in facing the audience. As expected, she was adamant about not doing it at first.
“Kel, they need you,” I begged her, smoothing my hands over her hair to soothe her. “No one else can pull it off. Please?” After a while, she finally believed me and agreed. So she went backstage to get some instructions. My heart drummed loudly while I waited for her piece. I felt very proud that I was best friends with the most beautiful girl in our business unit, and I couldn’t wait for everyone else to discover her. I readied my camera to document this milestone of her life, and saw, to my dismay, that its battery was low. No!! I looked around, and my eyes landed on the camera on Ivan’s lap. I hatched a plan.
“Ivan, can I ask a favor?” I pleaded. “My cam’s bat is empty, but I need to take a picture of Kelly’s modeling debut. Could you please take her picture for me?”
It seemed as though Ivan’s eyes had lit up, but I wondered if that had been my imagination. “Of course, no problem,” he said, just before the emcee announced the entrance of the “shampoo models.” The spotlight shone on three pretty girls walking onstage like they were ramp models. Kelly was in the middle. She was smiling, but I could see the tension in her eyes. I started yelling “Go Kelly!” and clapping really hard, willing her anxiety to disappear. Ivan broke my concentration when he came to me and showed me his camera, asking me if his takes were okay. Most were off-focus shots of the entire stage. I cringed inwardly. “Can I borrow this for a while?” I asked. He agreed, so I grabbed the cam, worked on the zoom, and took a solo shot of Kelly during her last seconds onstage, her smile finally genuine, nervousness gone from her eyes.
“Dude, thanks, I owe you,” I told Ivan when I handed back his camera, just as Kelly made her way back to the table, her cheeks flaming. “You were great, Kel,” I assured her, taking her hands, which were very cold. She looked like she didn’t want to believe me, or talk about that ordeal. How could I convince her that she did all right? Then I realized that it wasn’t up to me.
“Ivan took pics, if you don’t believe me,” I said loudly enough for everyone in the table to hear. Luckily, Ivan did what I had in mind.
“Yes Kelly, you were very wonderful up there,” he confirmed.
“And you’ll send her the pics so she can see for herself, right, dude?” I added.
“Of course. I’ll send it first thing tomorrow,” he replied, to her rather than to me.
I felt Kelly pinch me again, and I didn’t have to look at her to know that my plan had worked more perfectly than I dared to dream. Her anxiety was gone and she was happy partly because of something that I did. I am happy that she is. Really. The pinpricks of pain in my heart have nothing to do with her at all. I just need to get myself checked out at the clinic, maybe.
The next day, everyone was talking excitedly during lunch in the cafeteria, but none more excitedly than Kelly.
“So he emailed me this morning like he said he would, and there were like 6 pictures,” she was saying. “He said, ‘Hi Kel, here are the pics, like I promised. Even if I’m a lousy photographer, you still look great. Hope you believe what I said last night by now.’ Smiley!”
“OMG a smiley!” Bree thrilled.
“And he called me ‘Kel’! Like we’re close!” Kelly’s smile could probably be seen from all the way across the room. It’s a good thing Ivan was too much of a hot shot to have lunch in the cafeteria.
“My favorite shot was the solo pic,” she went on. “He took a picture with only me in it!”
“That was a shot only a guy who likes you could have taken,” Bree contributed.
That was the shot that I took. Of course, they didn’t need to know that. I just hope Ivan keeps this between him and me.
“So what did you reply to him?” Angel asked Kelly. I knew the answer, of course. Kelly runs all important decisions by me before executing them. I let her recount the story for the others’ sake. “I said, ‘Thanks so much for the pics. It’s not true that you’re a lousy photographer at all, they’re great. Don’t worry, when I become a popular model someday, I will say that I owe it all to the first photographer who captured my essence.”
“Wow, what a reply. No wonder he stopped emailing and started chatting to you on Sametime!” Angel reacted. Of course I knew about the Sametime messages too. I was too well informed for my own good. The conversation had gone like this:
Ivan: You’d really say that?
Kelly: Of course I would. Why not?
Ivan: I’ll bet you’d forget about me and won’t give me the time of day when you’re popular already.
Kelly: What? Of course not!
Ivan: I don’t believe you. I can’t take that risk.
Kelly: What do you mean?
Ivan: I can’t risk waiting for the day to come when you won’t want to talk to me anymore. So I’ll talk to you as much as I can now.
Ivan was way too smooth for my own good too.
~Another four months later~
“Why didn’t you invite your boyfriend to come with us?” Benedict asked Kelly in between shots of Amarula. It was past midnight, and we had just finished playing charades. We were having an overnight in a resort in my hometown.
“Who?” Kelly demanded.
“Ivan, who else?” Benedict replied, fluffing the hair at the back of his head with his hand. “Would have been nice to have a cute face around. Sorry, Kulas.” He giggled.
“He’s not my boyfriend,” Kelly said frostily.
“Still? Why don’t you agree to be his girlfriend?” Benedict asked.
“The question is, is he courting me?” Kelly exclaimed.
“Well, what do you call what he’s doing, then?” Benedict retorted.
“That’s the question, exactly!” Kelly said in exasperation. “He’s so damn inconsistent! Remember that time he asked me out for the first time and I was so excited about it? I spent the entire day choosing which dress to wear and which perfume to use. Then, one hour before our date, he called me up to cancel. That was so frustrating.”
“But you went out with him after that, right?” Lennie observed.
“Yes, a few times, but sometimes we were with common friends,” Kelly replied. “But our ‘dates’ are so few and far between. And he rarely texts me, especially when he goes back home to his hometown some weekends. It’s like, he only ever remembers me when he sees me. It’s such agony to wait around for his texts or calls. Oftentimes I think that I hear my phone ringing, but when I check my cell phone, it’s not.”
“But didn’t you guys kiss?” Angel put in.
“Argh. Yes! It was around Christmas and we had dinner somewhere, and he even lay down on my lap and then when he brought me home he kissed me on the lips.”
“How did it feel?” Bree asked.
“I got freaked out because I felt nothing. No sparks at all. I was like, OMG, all this time I’ve imagined what it’s like to kiss this guy and that was it?”
“So that’s it then. Didn’t you say that spark was your number one requirement in a boyfriend?” asked Lennie.
“Wait, there’s more. Some time after that we went out again and this time we had wine back at my house after dinner. He kissed me again, and there weren’t just sparks, there were fireworks. After he kissed me, he told me that he’s been waiting a long time to do that.”
“Last time I checked, something like that means the guy definitely likes you,” Benedict commented.
“Yeah, doesn’t it? And then a common friend of ours told me that he told her that he fell in love with me that night,” Kelly said sadly. “But if that’s true…how come he doesn’t show it?”
“Have you ever tried texting him first?” Bree asked.
“Of course not! Why should I?” Kelly replied, aghast.
“I don’t know, to show you’re interested too?” Bree asked.
“Is that really necessary? I’ve never had to do that with any of my boyfriends ever,” Kelly said indignantly. Of course not. She was not the kind of girl who had to. Like I thought that first overnight I spent with her, she was the kind of girl a guy would pull out all stops for. It was either Ivan was just plain stupid or – there was no OR, just a period. Ivan was just plain stupid, whether he loved Kelly but did not want to give everything she deserved in order to keep her or if he was not in love with her, because honestly, there was no other word to describe a person who did not realize the worth of a girl who had everything you could ever ask for – beauty, brains, sense of humor, flair for fashion, sense of adventure, and most importantly, a beautiful heart.
At that moment, in my inebriated state, I realized something. I too had been stupid, but in a different way. I was in love with Kelly. I just didn’t know it until then.
~Two Weeks Later~
First of all, I miss you so much. I just feel the need to tell you that.
If there’s anything I can be truly thankful for by working in this company, that would be meeting you. You have been such a good friend to me Gerry. If there’s someone who should be credited for this friendship that we have, that would be you. You are the foundation of whatever we have now. You were always a good listener and a good consoler. Sometimes I feel ashamed because I feel that when you’re the one who has a problem, I’m not as good as you in listening and consoling but I still try my best because I love you. You reap what you sow, right.
So I hope you’ll give me the chance to help you now with whatever problem it is you’re going through right now. I don’t understand why you’ve been staying away from us. It can’t be because you’ve just been too busy with work. That has never stopped you before, so it must be an excuse. Did I do something wrong? Whatever it is, I will right it. Please…just talk to me.
I’ve never told you this, but I’ve always felt truly blessed because I knew that whatever happened, I can be sure that I’d always have you. I still have you, right?
I stared at Kelly’s email on my screen and tried to blink back my tears. I didn’t want to hurt her. But how could I explain that what I was doing was because of her, but not because of what she did? It wasn’t her fault that I had fallen in love with her, not her fault that each second I would spend with her now would torture me, because I know that she could never love me the way I loved her. As the character Mark said in my favorite movie, Love Actually, “It’s a self-preservation thing, you see.”
I shutdown my computer, gathered my things, and walked outside hurriedly, praying that I wouldn’t run into any of my friends. In my haste, I nearly crashed into someone in our department – it was Ivan.
“Where’s the fire?” he quipped. Then he walked with me towards the elevator. As we stood there on the elevator landing and stood staring at each other, I remembered my epiphany in my Amarula-induced state and realized that I had neglected one of my insights then.
I was stupid if I let her go. I knew exactly what I had to do.
One step away from the front, Kelly looked at me and smiled. She didn’t need to say a word for me to understand what she was trying to tell me. I knew her too well. So much love and gratefulness in those eyes. I held them for a second too long before Ivan took her by the hand, and she shifted her gaze from me to her groom.
As I held my place in the front row and watched the blissful couple-to-be, my mind went back to two years ago in that fateful elevator scene.
“Hey, are you in a hurry to go somewhere, or could you spare a few minutes?” I had asked Ivan then.
“Not really, I was just gonna go grab a bite to eat somewhere then head home and crash, why?” Ivan had replied.
“Is it all right if I join you for dinner, then? I just need to talk to you about something,” I had replied.
He agreed, so we parked ourselves in a fastfood booth and once we were digging into our food, I asked him, “Do you love Kelly?” He was probably shocked by the blunt question, but I didn’t have time to beat around the bush.
“Yes, I think I do,” Ivan replied after a few seconds of thoughtful silence.
“Then why aren’t you courting her?” I demanded.
“Well I want to, actually I thought I was, but she hasn’t been responsive to my moves so I thought she wasn’t interested,” Ivan responded.
“You’re an idiot. Kelly is the kind of girl who is used to being wooed, and she is the kind of girl who actually deserves it. So if you want her, and man, I’m telling you, you’re the world’s stupidest guy if you don’t, then you actually gotta do something about it. I know a guy like you is used to girls falling all over for him and who never had to make any effort before, but she’s not just any other girl. Wouldn’t you want to keep her? I know I would,” I probably said my speech a bit more passionately than I should have.
“Wow. You’re – you’re so right,” was Ivan’s mesmerized response.
The next day, he sent flowers to Kelly.
The next month, they were officially a couple.
The year after that, I was having dinner with Kelly to celebrate the monthsary of our friendship. In the middle of dessert, she said, “I have something to ask you.” Then she took out a velvet box, opened it, and showed a diamond ring inside.
I felt my heart stop for three seconds.
“Will you be my maid of honor?” she finally asked.
I took a deep breath, shook my head, and said, “on one condition.”
“Name it,” she said.
“That you won’t use my real name on the invitations.” I said, seriously.
“Yes, I promise! They will say ‘Gerry’ and not Gertrude,” she replied, laughing and clearly relieved. I wonder if she had even the tiniest inkling?
“Then it would be my honor,” I said, giving her a hug and congratulating her. And I meant it.
That day on the elevator, when I’d had that epiphany, I had decided that I was not going to be stupid. I was going to keep her. Lovers – they came and went and could get written off from people’s lives like Marlon had been replaced by Ivan. But friends – they were forever. I did not want to get written off. I was keeping her for the rest of my life. And if she was happy, then so was I.