Road Block Chapter 5: Stephen

“Come on, Sam. Humor me. Who’s the guy?” Steve asked after we finished eating. The food that Ryan asked Steve to bring to me was my favorite: chicken with pasta ala carbonara, and there was four cheese pizza. He even gave me the option of having chicken alfredo pasta because—as Steve said—he wasn’t sure which one I’d like more.

I just gave Steve a grin. He had been asking about Yuan ever since we started to eat, but I had dodged the question while I can. It’s not that I didn’t want him to know who Yuan is. I wanted to keep some part of my life a mystery, especially to the Santillan brothers.

“Look, Dr. Santillan,” I said in a teasing tone, “the world won’t stop if you don’t know who in the world the guy I am talking on the phone is.” Steve rolled his eyes, helping me with the dishes. I soaped and washed them under the water while he dried them and placed them in the cupboard.

“What is your specialization?” I asked him, and he looked up at me.

“Cardiology.”

That made me stop. “Wait—that’s Ryan’s specialization too, isn’t?”

“Yeah.”

“Wow. You guys are really just into the same thing, huh?”

Steve looked at me, his eyes swirling with emotions, and I just stared. He wasn’t speaking, but I felt like he wanted to communicate something to me that I have yet to figure out. And then he cleared his throat. He took the plate that I had finished rinsing and wiped it with the towel. There was this awkward silence that filled the air and I didn’t know if was about the last thing I said.

“You’re a researcher, right, Sam?” he asked, and I nodded.

“If the guy on the phone wasn’t your boyfriend, I reckon you’re single?”

I looked at him, amused. “That is a very nice segue, Steve,” I said, wiping my hands on the hand towel. I passed him the towel and he took it, his hand grazing mine, and I could swear I felt electricity. My mind went back to that one night at the prom, but I shook that thought out of my head.

“Yes, I am still single.”

“Why?”

I placed both my hands on the table and fixed him a smile. “Are you seriously asking me why I am still single? What if it wasn’t my fault that I’m still single?” I asked back, and then he shrugged.

“Well, maybe I was thinking it was by choice. Some people plainly don’t have time for relationships. Others are still not ready yet—or aren’t ready to love again.”

I took a deep breath. “It’s by choice. I can’t travel and be in a relationship. Long-distance relationships take too much effort to work, and I’m already in too much pressure in my job to actually handle some more stress brought about LDRs.”

Steve folded the hand towel and hung it over the oven’s railing. “How about you, are you still single?” I asked him, and he let out a sigh. “Been single for over three years already,” he said. “I’ve been in a relationship—a four-year one—but it didn’t work out as planned.”

“Aw,” I said. “You want coffee?” I asked when I couldn’t say anything more. I moved towards the coffeemaker before he could say anything. He watched me move, and then said, “Alright, I can do coffee.”

“What time’s your shift?” I asked, as he leaned against the counter, crossing his arms across his chest.

“6AM.”

I glanced at the clock at the wall of the kitchen. It appears that the couple of hours that I asked him to stay had stretched for a long time. Conversations with Steve weren’t really that hard to come by—we didn’t run out of topics. I suddenly felt guilty. “It’s already 11PM. You sure you still want to do coffee?” I said, putting down the cup I had taken out. “You should be heading home, you know. Try and get some sleep.”

Steve shook his head. “I’m enjoying, Sam. Like I said, it’s not every day I see someone familiar here in Atlanta—aside from my family, that is,” he answered. I studied his face, trying to search some signs of sleepiness, but it appears he was hell bent on spending some more time with me. I sort of felt happy, of course, but guilty at the same time too.

“If you’re sure,” I said with a shrug. “Look, you head on out to the living room. I’ll prepare the coffee,” I told him, and he nodded. I started to make the kind of coffee that I learned from Yuan. Aside from the brewed coffee, I added a teaspoon of whipped cream on the top and grated some dark chocolate to garnish it. Not necessarily what you can call healthy, but it was Yuan’s type of coffee, and I learned to make it, so…

I am kind of feeling homesick.

I brought out a tray and took the cups of coffee to the living room. “Hey, Steve, I hope you’d like—”

I stopped and smiled. Steve had fallen asleep while seated, his neck lolling towards his chest. I set the tray on the center table and wondered how I am going to do this. I have to move Steve—that, or I’ll let him sleep this way and he’d get stiff neck in the morning. I went to my room first, got him an extra blanket and a pillow. And then I studied how to move him. I wasn’t sure if he was a light sleeper or not, so here it goes.

I leaned over, tried to somehow push him so that he’d be lying on the couch, and I was successful. He stirred though, and I thought he was going to wake up, but he just hugged the pillow that I gave him. I went over to the end of the couch and removed his rubber shoes, setting them on the edge of the carpet. I grabbed the blanket and covered his body, and when I was assured that he was snug, I went to my room, changed into tank top and shorts, found my laptop and went back to where Steve is.

I sat on the loveseat next to the couch and started to work. I still have a long night—plus Yuan’s game will be on in five hours.

I glanced at Steve and smiled. At least I’ve got company—even though he’s asleep.

I had fallen asleep for about a couple of hours, and when I woke up Yuan’s game was already on. Through my sleepy haze, I watched him make a three-pointer and then run back down on defense to block the ball from San Martin, his nemesis who was drafted ahead of him a couple of years back. He and I thought he’d be the number one draft pick, but the premium was placed on taller guys who can block shots, make outside shots, and still be athletic. Therefore, Jesse San Martin.

I grinned sleepily, stretching, and then I mumbled, “Yuan Chua for three,” when Yuan made another three-point jumper. Ah, my best friend has a hot hand tonight, it appears.

“I think I owe you coffee.”

I sat up so quickly that I felt dizzy, and when I recovered I saw Steve, now awake, seated on the couch. He smiled slowly, as if he was keeping a secret.

“You do. You fell asleep on me, Dr. Paolo Stephen Santillan,” I said, a naughty smile on my face. I moved and Indian sat on the loveseat. I cocked my head to the table where the cups of coffee were left cold.

“My name and my title sound better when you say it,” Steve teased, and I rolled my eyes.

“So who are we watching at 5:30AM?” he said, and I turned to the muted TV. I grabbed the remote and turned up the volume. “You want to know who Yuan is, right?” I asked him. He nodded. “Search for jersey no. 8,” I said, and he turned to the TV screen. I yawned while he searched for Yuan, and when he found him he said, “So he’s a basketball player who’s connected to you. Anything else I should know?”

“As of now, that’s all you can know,” I said, and he groaned. He waited for me to say something more but I didn’t, and he threw his hands up in the air. “Can I pry you away from the TV and invite you for coffee before I head to my shift?” he asked instead. “You took, um, care of me when I fell asleep last night.”

I winked at him. “You’re a sound sleeper, Steve. I pushed you and you didn’t even wake up.” He laughed. “Yeah, yeah. I must have been so tired already,” he said, and I smiled.

“It’s alright, Steve,” I told him softly. He reached out and held my hand. “Coffee?” he asked again, his thumb rubbing my fingers unconsciously. It seemed so normal, and if felt so normal.

I breathed deeply. “Sure. Just let me change into something more decent,” I told him, and he nodded, giving me a small smile.

It felt as if I was back to eight years ago in a place between the Santillan brothers that I didn’t want to be in again.

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