Chapter Four: Timeout

“A time-out is an interruption of the game requested by the coach or assistant coach.”

–          Article 18, Section 18.1

FIBA Official Rule Book 2008

 

I didn’t date for two years after that.

Not that it’s the right penalty for… (unconsciously) killing your baby, but still…

I also didn’t see much of Darren.

I was on my nth overtime when I heard the door of my office open. Usually it’s the night janitor telling me to scram since I’m the only one who is in the office still. So I was just about to say, “I’ll be there out in five,” when my words got stuck in my throat. It wasn’t the night janitor.

“So the rumor’s true, huh, Bree?”

I miss Darren. Eternally and dearly miss him. And although he and I had seen each other monthly—nope, not in that way, I don’t think I can still—and nearly every time in his games, but we never really talked. It was as if like the baby, me, and everything else… was too much to take in for him, and I almost think it was okay.

At least it doesn’t confuse me.

Heard he’s got a new girlfriend now.

“What rumor?” I choked out after I was speechless and stunned for five full seconds.

“That you work your ass off 24/7,” he said in a matter-of-factly tone, closing the door and walking towards my desk. He saved the file I was reading to my surprise, and then shut down my laptop. And then he took post-its from the farther side of my desk, and stuck them onto the folders that I had open in front of me, and bookmarked them. He ended up making the folders look like rainbow earmarked things, and I grinned.

“Why are you doing this?” I asked, when he bagged my laptop and put me in my blazer. I was, to say the least, amused.

“And then maybe I should ask you the same thing, Bree,” he said, and I frowned. “Why are you… punishing yourself like this?”

I breathed deeply. “I’m not punishing myself,” I said defensively. “I just don’t have anything to do, that’s all. I have no boyfriend—not that I still date—but… you know.” I didn’t know what else to say.

Darren knelt in front of me, and kissed my tired, weary hand. “What happened to our baby wasn’t your fault,” he whispered. I rolled my eyes. “Really? Then why did you walk out on me, and didn’t talk to me after that?” I asked, trying my best to not sound hurt, but I miserably failed.

“I don’t have any sane explanations,” Darren said after a couple of minutes. “It’s just that… I wanted to give you space, and I wanted to… I don’t know. It just hit me, you know? I could have checked on you, asked you if you are okay, if you are—”

“Ha ha, don’t give me bullshit, Darren. You think it was my fault,” I said soberly. He shook his head. “No. It was no one’s fault,” he replied, his voice hard. “Yeah,” I answered unconvincingly, and I stood up, grabbing my things off my desk. He had my laptop—and I am not about to engage him into a brawl by taking it from him—so I stalked off. He sighed, and followed me.

“Remember Cirque?” he asked when I was pushing the button for the elevator. Yeah, that stuffed toy that I punched so badly the night when you left me in the bathroom after I told you I miscarried. I merely grunted in response. “Well, I was thinking… since it was our lovely… hmm, bear,” he started as soon as the elevator dinged into life and opened. I allowed it to engulf me and him, and waited for him to continue. “Maybe we could immortalize Cirque.”

I couldn’t really get the drift, so I stared at him blankly. “Remember my restaurant dream?” he asked, and I nodded. He was blabbering it to me once every month—how he wanted a resto, what his concept is, what he feels should work, what the perfect location is. “Well, maybe you and I should… build one,” he said, his voice tentative, “and name it Cirque.”

I breathed deeply. “And you’re bringing up this one to me, why?”

“You have the money,” he said in a you-should-know tone, and I nearly scowled. What is he talking about? He has, like, Php150,000 as his monthly salary for his first year in the PBA. What does he need me for? “Oh that’s crap, come on,” I said after a while.

“You have more money than I do as of the moment. Maybe you could, um, loan me money and then…”

His voice trailed when I started to glare at him. “You came to pick me up from work to ask me money?” I said, frustrated, and I was out of the elevator before he could even breathe another word.

“Bree, you know that I’m not—”

Darren said when he caught up with me as I got into my car. I didn’t care if my laptop was with him. I was angry.  I just wanted to go home.

“Yes, you’re not here because you wanted to see me, but you’re here to ask me for money so that I can fund for your restaurant. That’s it, right?” I said angrily. He smiled, and then hugged me. “I missed how stubborn you are,” he whispered through my hair.

“Damn it, Darren,” I said, tears welling up in my eyes.

He patted my hair. “I missed you, too, Bree—all of you,” he said, and I could hear the smile in his voice. He released me. “I’ll talk to you when you’re not too shocked about me crashing into your life once more, okay?” I nodded. “It’s just that, I wanted you to know that I am not… mad or something on you because maybe… the baby’s just not meant for us,” he continued.

I opened my car door and didn’t say anything. “Bree, you know that I love you,” he went on, “and that will always be there. You’re my best friend, and that will never ever change. I… did not go here just to beg money from you. I am springing the entire Cirque idea on you because maybe… if it’s not a real, breathing baby, we can have a baby that’s… like a resto or something. Something with you and me still in it.”

I looked up at him and sighed. “Oh hell,” I muttered. “Follow me. We’ll talk in my condo,” I said, and he grinned at me.

He knew he won, just like he always do. He always sweet-talks me into anything.

Cirque was born a full year after.

 

“Kim, this is Bree, my best friend. Bree, this is Kim, my girlfriend.”

I looked up, one eyebrow hiking an inch higher on my forehead, and had a lousy, superficial smile on. He had on his arm a chinita lady of maybe 24, all in her makeup-fixed beauty. I could imagine how she looks like without the makeup: ordinary. I wonder why Darren went for this chick.

Kim flashed me a smile through her magenta-colored lips. “Hi. Darren has told me so much about you,” she said amiably, giving me a cheek-to-cheek. I rolled my eyes at Darren to tell him I don’t like Kim, and he gave me a reproachful look. “Please,” he mouthed, and I could continue that sentence: Please be nice to her. When Kim was done with all her royal pleasantries, I took a step back.

“You’re together for a year now, right?” I asked Kim, and she nodded. “Fourteen months, to be exact,” she offered. She sounded really pleasant, and she’s almost nice. Almost, because beneath all that jazz, I knew she’s a bitch. I can see that, and I can smell that. And she’s just being nice to me now because I am Darren’s best friend, and she has to impress me.

“Wow. You’re about to be Darren’s longest,” I quipped, and her eyes widened at me. Damn, she doesn’t know that bit, huh?

Darren gave me a full-blown glare, which I returned with a wide smile. “Sorry. Too much information,” I said nonchalantly, and turned to head for Cirque’s office. I was about to open the door when I heard Kim call me over the blaring music at the resto—it’s game night.

“Bree, maybe you and I could do shopping together?” she said, unsure. I gave her the best (superficial) smile I could muster and said, “Girl, I don’t do shopping. Sorry.”

She opened her mouth in another attempt, but I quickly cut her off. “I know this is all for Darren, but Kim, please. Don’t try to be close to me just because you wanted him to think you like me. His past girlfriends all tried that, and they ended up breaking up with Darren.”

“And why is that?”

“They soon discovered that Darren cares for me too much than what they would normally allow.”

She frowned. “Is that a warning?” she asked, and I shook my head.

“I’m just telling you the truth, dear. Getting close to me would mean knowing a lot of shit that you wouldn’t want to know about Darren. We have been friends since we’re eight. We could practically sense each other five kilometers away. Getting close to me means knowing how much Darren and I have gone through together, and usually that’s all too much to bear for his girlfriends. Don’t try to compete with me, because you’re bound to lose, okay?” I said, my voice still.

Kim looked confused for a moment. “I know who you are in Darren’s life, and I am not going to replace you. I am not about to compete with you either. I just want you to give me a chance. You’re important to Darren, and I want to know everyone who’s important to him,” she said quietly after a while.

I clapped my hands. “You’ve got bonus points from me, sis. But like I said, I tend to stay away from his girlfriends. I’m bad for them,” I said sympathetically, and she nodded. I entered the office.

Yeah. I know. I sounded territorial.

Or like a jealous girlfriend.

Ex-girlfriend.

 

“Holy crap, Darren. You look like hell.”

Darren looked up at me from his hands and heaved the heaviest sigh ever. I closed the door to our joint office at Cirque, and walked over to him, kneeling before his seated form. “What’s wrong?” I asked, and he closed his eyes for a moment. “Kim’s pregnant,” he said, his voice ominous.

I was so weak I lost my balance and I fell onto the floor.

I didn’t attempt to sit up. I let the words sink in. Sixteen months, and she’s pregnant.

And I thought she was hardcore religious. Darren told me that courting her included weekly trips to Baclaran and Quiapo Church.

And then why…?

“You want the kid?” I asked instead, finally finding my voice after Darren and I stared at each other’s faces for the past five minutes.

Darren shrugged. “Maybe. It’s still mine, come on.”

I reconsidered. “I asked the wrong question. Of course you wanted the kid. You didn’t talk to me for two years because I lost yours,” I said slowly, and he gave me a grim smile. “If you want your kid’s mom to be Kim is the more apt question.”

That earned a reaction.

He buried his face once more in his hands. “I was careful this time. I used protection, for heaven’s sake,” he said, and I sighed, reaching over and patting his back. I got my answer: No, not Kim. He let out a sob—the first that I heard from Darren.

“There’s more?” I guessed, and he nodded.

“Parents wanted me to marry her before she blows up and gives birth.”

That sucked the air out of me.

“Hers or yours?”

“Hers.”

I breathed deeply. I closed my eyes myself and ran my hands over my face. I tried to think straight. I had to. One of us has to.

“Well, at least one of us gets the fairytale happy ending. You get the marriage, and the family,” I said in a composed and relatively neutral voice. I placed a finger on his chin and lifted his head so that his tear-filled eyes would meet mine. I gave him the best smile that I could muster. “At least one of us gets to be happy,” I whispered, and he shook his head.

“I like Kim, but… that’s it. I don’t really think I do love her,” Darren said, his voice strained. I shook my head vehemently. I have to psych him up so that he’ll push through with this. He has to get married to Kim. He has to get married to her because she’s carrying his kid. I don’t care how screwed up that logic is.

He has to.

“Oh c’mon, Darren. You can’t be with her in the past year and a half and not love her,” I pointed out. He held my face in his hands, and looked deep into my eyes. “Maybe. But I love another woman, okay?” he said gruffly. Out of sheer shock, I just nodded.

“But you have to do this,” I whispered, and he nodded. He moved closer so our foreheads were leaning against each other, and I could feel his warm breath on my face. “Yeah,” he whispered, his voice breaking. I don’t know what was more painful to him and to me: that I was telling him to marry a woman that he doesn’t really love, or that I am telling him to marry a woman he doesn’t really love even though we both know who he really does love.

We stayed that way together for a moment, basking in the silence and the pain. I didn’t know when I started crying, too, but my face is now wet with tears. And then I broke free. I kissed him on the forehead and stood up.

“Call me when you need help with your parents, okay?” I said, knowing how violently his dad could probably react, and he nodded. He stood up, grabbed me by the shoulders and backed me up until I was leaning against the door. Darren kissed me for what seemed to be the last time we are ever legally allowed to do so. He cupped my face in his hands, deepening the kiss, and I responded with as much love and passion as I could. And then abruptly, the kiss ended. I exhaled loudly, tiptoed to kiss him lightly on the lips once more, and then he stepped back.

I wiped my tears and huffed once more, and then left him.

 

For some weird reason, I wanted to cuss Darren for getting me into this. Being one of Kim’s bridesmaids isn’t what I had in mind exactly, but then again, it’s the one thing he’s asking from me. He even said he’d forego my gift—just so that I’ll be one of Kim’s five bridesmaids.

I don’t know what he told Kim for her to actually include me in her bridesmaid list. After all, I am not at all close to her—I am close to Darren. However, I can’t be one of the groomsmen, can I?

I squirmed in my lavender gown and breathed deeply. I was about to follow Portia—I think that’s her name—as she walked down the aisle, which was (conveniently for the bride) long. I took a step and another, walking to the bridal march, my heart thumping in my chest.

I didn’t want to look up.

No.

But since I am crazy, I did, and my eyes met with Darren’s.

You wouldn’t want to know what I saw in them.

You know that feeling that it’s right there in front of you and you were looking for it? That feeling like it was staring at you in the face? That the moment you saw it, it’s gone?

That’s it.

I seriously contemplated on turning around and running to my car out of the church.

He blinked, and that look of longing was gone. I gave him a small smile when I passed by him, and he nodded.

I took my spot and thought that was the end of it.

By the time the priest asked if anyone wanted to protest the union at hand, I was sorely tempted to say I don’t want my best friend to get married to the wrong woman. I had manners, so I didn’t. My hands were itching with the temptation to ruin Kim’s life and save my best friend’s, but I knew it was wrong. I had to think of the life inside Kim’s tummy.

“Do you, Darren Xavier Yu, take Kimberly Samantha Ramos to be your lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do you part?”

What sucks is that Darren had to risk that glance—that same look—at me before he said, “I do.”

I looked down on my tiny bouquet and bit my lip to stop myself from crying.

 

“Do we really have to?”

Darren gave me an impatient look as he pulled me from my chair. My feet were throbbing from all the walking and dancing and talking with people I more or less didn’t like or wouldn’t dream of encountering once more in my stay in the planet earth, but here I am, letting myself get dragged by my newly married best friend onto the dance floor.

“Oh c’mon. It’s been like decades we last danced. We danced during your debut, right?” he asked pointedly, and I saw something in his eyes: a fleeting moment of sadness. Something else had happened to me and Darren the year I turned eighteen, and that eventually changed our lives. It changed me and him. To avoid much awkwardness, I removed my hand from his and punched him on the arm jokingly. He mouthed “Aw,” and took my hand, and placed it in his. His other hand was on my waist, placing my body securely against his. He guided in me in what seemed to be Flightless Bird, American Mouth by Iron and Wine, and I nearly swooned. Edward and Bella’s tune when they were dancing during their prom in Twilight. Who had the idea of putting that in the playlist?

I closed my eyes and leaned my head against Darren’s chest. Despite the music, I could still hear his heartbeat loud and clear, and for some reason my eyes stung with tears. This is my best friend. This is the guy I was supposed to be having my child with if the baby didn’t decide to exit me in an unwanted fashion. This is the man I had made love to for countless of times, loved every moment of it.

He could have been the guy who should have owned my heart and my all, if one of us had the frigging guts to tell each other what we really feel.

This is the man who is supposed to be my husband.

Only now he got married to somebody else.

“Bree, I love you,” Darren whispered, and I nodded. “I know that,” I said, my voice thin. I tried to remember how he glanced at me when the priest ask if anyone wants to protest against the impending marriage, or how he looked at me before he said his vows. I tried to keep my eyes on my frigging bouquet the whole time after that.

“If things were different, maybe this whole ceremony, the whole wedding? It could have been us.”

I swayed to his words and felt the mighty urge of avoiding the length of the conversation and just sit down—or leave the reception. “I know,” I breathed.

He stopped and lifted my head so that my eyes would meet his. “I love you. Always. Remember that, okay?” he whispered, and I blinked, the first of my tears falling. He leaned over and kissed them dry. I gave him a small smile. “I love you, too, Darren. Always,” I whispered, and he nodded.

“In another lifetime, maybe.”

I choked back a sob. We finished the song, and then after that, just as when he was about to ask me for another dance, I broke our hands and ran to the restroom, finally breaking down.

Click here to read Chapter Five: Live Ball.

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