What Ifs

“Have you ever thought of what might have been if I had pursued you? If I really did court you?”

I heaved a sigh and looked at him. His eyes were that same dark brown that I loved staring at six years ago, those same dark brown eyes that I fell in love with, the same dark brown eyes that reads me ever so well. They were boring into me the way that they used to, and I had to look away. For some weird reason, six years into the future, he still has that same effect on me.

He wrapped his hand around mine, and I allowed myself a small smile. We used to do this back in high school, but it was totally platonic—according to him, that is. Back then, for me, holding hands with him was like a gift or a ten grand cash prize.

We were perfectly fine as friends until the day that I finally admitted to myself that I was, in fact, falling for the guy I had called my best friend.

And were perfectly okay with me loving him as more than one until the day he asked if he could court me.

I vividly remembered that day. We were in the school bus, in our usual seats. It was an unspoken rule that he and I will be seatmates no matter what (even on occasions when we are fighting), and on the way home we usually sit at the second row of the school bus (ours was a van—an L300). He would be at the outer seat and I will sit next to him. We were waiting for our other busmates, who were conveniently taking much more time than usual, leaving me and him and two others inside the van.

He was thinking about something that made his brows furrow and his eyes blaze. The wind was playing with his hair, and I was sorely tempted to brush them off his eyes for they are covering the beauty of them. I kept my hands to myself, though, and waited for him to talk to me. I busied myself by staring at the ice cream cart outside, wondering whether or not I could get a Jelly Tongue.

I didn’t dare go down and buy—I knew he is about to tell me something.

He turned to me, and then paused. He breathed deeply, and, without further hesitation, asked, “Pwede ba kitang ligawan?”

I had always dreamt of him asking that and I have formulated of ways to answer it without sounding much too eager. But at this moment, I just froze, lost in his brown eyes.

He waited for my answer, and I found my voice. I opened my mouth to say YES when he spoke again, interrupting me. “Practice lang.”

I couldn’t react at that moment. Here I am, about to say yes to a question that wasn’t even meant for me. Being a best friend shouldn’t include the task of being a rehearsal line partner, damn it.

I pushed past him, hiding my embarrassment, and got myself that Jelly Tongue.

I didn’t talk to him for the entire duration of the trip—a full hour.

I gathered my thoughts and nodded. “Yes, I have thought of it,” I replied slowly.

“And…?” he probed impatiently, his eyes doing the urging. “And I thought that it wouldn’t work,” I said simply, removing my hand against his and stood up, facing him.

“What?” he asked, astounded. He reached out for me but I shook my head—I was better at explaining myself with him not distracting me with his entirety.

“I said it wouldn’t work,” I repeated calmly. He frowned. “Why?”

I breathed deeply, and then gave him a thrifty smile. “You are a very independent person, and I have always loved that about you. It worked with us being best friends before—I was clingy and you needed me to keep you stable, to keep you… whole, if I may say so. Maybe it would have worked for a couple of months—hell, I know I would have begged you to be with me and to stay with me even if you wanted out. We were two very different people, and I don’t want you to be stuck with me when that’s not what you want,” I explained, and he stared at me, speechless.

“I don’t know,” I whispered, shrugging.

“And now?” he said after a few moments, again reaching out to me. I relented, and he hugged me around the waist, cuddling closer. “Still won’t work,” I said, and he twirled me around, his hands still around me. “Why?” he demanded, and I grinned. He scowled, and I smiled wider.

“Because I am a different person now,” I said softly, touching his cheek. “I am more independent. I don’t think you and I, since we’re two very independent people, can make this work since we won’t really need each other—”

“It’s not that. Being independent doesn’t really make it hard to maintain a relationship—”

“And I am not a fan of long-distance relationships,” I cut in, and he groaned, obviously frustrated. He was, after all, studying miles away from me, a six-hour bus ride, to be exact. He held me tight against his body, closing in. “Don’t you want me anymore?” he asked in a whisper, his voice husky against the hollow of my neck. I felt my world swirl, and my heart was raring to jump out of my chest.

I closed my eyes.

“You won’t… try to seduce me into this if you know I don’t want you,” I said in a restrained voice. I had my hands defensively against his chest—I don’t know if I can handle the heat between me and him if he goes any closer. He grinned. “Yeah, you want me,” he said, satisfied. I pushed off against him but his arms were steel around my waist and he wouldn’t let me go.

“I won’t leave you,” he urged, and I shook my head. “I am sorry, but it won’t work,” I insisted, and I was shocked at the next thing that he did: he crushed his lips against mine, hard, demanding, and punishing. I couldn’t move at first—I had dreamed of this moment for quite some time six years ago, and I never thought of anything like this for our first kiss. I felt him bite my lower lip and I couldn’t respond still out of the shock. Before I knew it, I was crying.

And then the kiss went gentle. His hand moved up from my waist to my neck, urging, wanting me to respond. And just for the sake of him letting me go, I tried to act as if it was okay with me, finally kissing him back.

Breathless—that was what we both are when he released me. “Shit,” he muttered, and I frowned, finally opening my eyes. “You’re crying,” he said, drying my tears with his fingers. I nearly scowled at the keen observation. He touched my now swollen lower lip, and continued, “I’m so sorry.”

“You can’t do that all the time to get what you wanted,” I said, my voice controlled. “I want you. I. Want. You. Is that what you want to hear? But sometimes, you’re just a little bit too late.”

Confusion fleeted his face for a moment, and I took that as an opportunity to untangle myself from his arms. He released me, but still kept me close by grabbing my hand. “Late?” he croaked, his voice still shaky from the kiss.

“Come on. Six years?”

He threw his head back and laughed loudly. “I told you I loved you back then, remember?”

“Yeah, but as your best friend, remember?” I shot back, and he shook his head.

“I meant it. I love you in the way that you have loved me.”

His voice sounded sincere enough, but I didn’t allow that to sway me. “Only back then you had a girlfriend, is that it? A girlfriend who isn’t me. The one you rehearsed that stupid line for. How do you expect me to believe that?”

“That ‘stupid’ line was meant for you. When I saw you hesitate, I couldn’t bear the rejection, so I said I was just practicing. I was scared of you. I told you before I don’t deserve the kind of love you were giving me. It was so pure, so undemanding, so selfless. But I should have known better. I knew you would accept me no matter what, and I couldn’t just shake that fear that one day you’ll realize that you should have gone and fallen in love for someone better—”

I cut him off when I pulled myself towards him and crashed into his chest. “Well then, people change, don’t they?” I whispered, and he nodded absently. I guess I could distract him the way he does to me. “And I told you before that we can never choose who we love,” I continued, my eyes holding his gaze. I have much more self-control than I credit myself for.

“And even though I said you’re six years too late, I think we should give it a shot. Prove me wrong that it won’t work.”

He smiled when he realized what I was saying. “Start off a clean slate?” he guessed, and I shook my head. “Not really clean. We were best friends. Want me to forget that too?” I said, and he grinned. “No, of course not. I was a better person with you around,” he replied, closing the gap between us. The kiss was gentler this time, and a million light years away from the first.

“Wow,” he whispered breathlessly. “Now I guess you can call that our first official kiss?” he teased, and I winked at him.

“What made you change your mind?” he asked, and I shrugged. “You slipped past me once. Won’t let that happen again, would I?”

He pulled me close and cuddled me against his chest. “Wrong. I let you get away from me before. I won’t let that chance get by me again,” he corrected, and I stayed silent, letting everything sink in.

“I love you,” he whispered against my hair.

The next day, he was gone.

Just like six years ago.


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