On the first page of our story
The future seem so bright
Then this thing turned out so evil
I don’t know why I’m still surprised
Even angels have their wicked schemes
And you take that to new extremes
But you’ll always be my hero, even though you lost your mind
-Love the Way You Lie Part II, Rihanna feat. Eminem
Eleven years ago.
In the first ever grand reunion of our high school batch in 2002, I remembered asking him how everyone would be in the next grand reunion. We were 21 to 22 years old at that time, and only about five or six are married and/or have children in our batch of 87 boys and girls. We had joked that in five years, most of us are probably married—or at least about to be—and some would have their tiny tots of their own.
And then I thought I’d see him again by December on the next reunion, just like before, but apparently Fate has other plans.
I stopped running after the elevator when I heard someone call me. I saw Yael, one of my officemates and closest friends, holding the elevator doors open for me, a smile on his handsome boyish face, but I risked a glance to see who called me.
I nodded to Yael, signaling that he can go ahead without me, and then smiled at Franco, who went through a sea of people waiting in front of the elevators heading to the 14th to 28th floor just to get to me. He surprised me when he pulled me into a tight hug, and when the shock wore off I just hugged him back.
“Do you know how great it feels to see someone so familiar?” he asked in a whisper, and then he let me go. It was when I took a step back did I see that he was in a crisp suit ensemble, and I winked at him. “Looking very corporate, Franco,” I said, meaning it to be a compliment, and he rolled his eyes. He pulled me back to the lobby so that we won’t be of hassle to the people who want to go up to their offices already.
“I didn’t know you’re working in this building,” Franco said, and I shrugged. “I didn’t know you are here either,” I returned, and Franco just sighed. His smile was gone—that smile that I first liked from back in high school that just brightens my day and takes my breath away. In place of the smile was a weary and tired face—one that spoke volumes of how many hours he has been putting into his work. I put about 80 to 90 hours a week in my job, but manage not to feel that weary because my officemates were heaven.
I stopped myself from touching his cheek, but tried to uplift his spirit by giving him a warm smile. “You want to eat later? Lunch?” I said, and he nodded vigorously. “I’d love that,” Franco replied, and I hesitated. I didn’t want to leave him yet, especially when he’s this weary, but I still have a couple of deadlines to catch. And especially when Franco had uplifted my spirit a couple of times before.
I pointed my thumb to the general direction of the elevators. “Sorry, Franc, but I need to go up now,” I said, and he nodded. “I’d text you? You still have the same number, right?” Franco quipped, and I nodded.
“See you later at lunch,” I said, and I turned to go back to the elevators but he stopped me by the arm. His hand slid down to meet mine. “It is really good to see you, Luisa,” he said, and I rolled my eyes, scowling at his naughty smile. “Lui,” he corrected, and I nodded.
“Later,” I said, giving his hand in mine a squeeze, and I left.
“Who’s the reason you ditched the elevator ride with me?”
I just laughed at Yael’s accusation as I passed by him on my way to my desk. He followed me to my desk eight cubicles down and three cubicles to the left from his, and placed the Starbucks paper bag he was bringing earlier on my desk.
“He’s Franco, my high school batch mate. Apparently he’s working in the building,” I told him, and I perused the paper bag he brought and saw that it contains a venti cup of chocolate cream chip, one of the few drinks in Starbucks that is coffee-free. He knows that coffee makes me sleepy—I know, I know, it’s a weird quirk—so he makes it a point to buy me coffee-free drinks.
“You are getting so many Starbucks out of Yael, Lu,” said Rachel, one of the senior researchers in the company, and I just rolled my eyes. Frankly, I don’t know how the tradition of buying me Starbucks almost every day had started for Yael, but it had been like that for the past three weeks.
“Why not accept his offer for a date? That’s all Yael is asking—he’s just too coward to say it, really,” Rachel continued to tease, and I could swear Yael is blushing. I looked at him, eyes intent, waiting for him to retort to Rachel’s jab.
“She’s a friend, Rach,” Yael managed to say after my stare bore into him for a couple of good minutes.
“And I am your friend too, Yael, but you don’t buy me Starbucks almost every day,” Rachel pointed out. I just huffed, placed my fingers between my lips and blew out a loud, shrill whistle. Playing referee again.
Rachel and Yael turned to me, laughing. Rachel raised both her hands in the air and gave me the sign that she’s giving up. I sat down on my desk and booted my PC. Yale gave me a meaningful look before going back to his seat.
It was that day—that first day when my life changed.
The first lunch with Franco was followed by another, and then another, until I saw myself looking forward to having my lunch break with him. It was just a short span of time every day—some forty-five minutes of chatting and talking daily as he and I rarely see each other after office hours for I always get out late—but I wanted it to stretch longer, to spend some more time with him. I have never laughed, never smiled, and never been this giddy.
And it wasn’t just me—Franco had been giddy too. I saw his dimples make an appearance more than once whenever we see each other, and he seemed to be in a lighter mood as of late. And I am happy that this renewed friendship has made him happy.
It wasn’t until the third week that I realized why I was so giddy, why Franco is happy, and why Yael isn’t talking to me.
“What exactly is wrong with you?”
I had cornered Yael in the pantry as he was getting coffee. He hasn’t been talking to me for two weeks straight already, and I know you can’t blame me if I found it weird. The moment he arrives at the office, I would be the first person he would greet good morning. And then we’d talk for a good ten minutes before we go back to work. And then I would be the first one he’d ask if I’d eat lunch, and then he’d accompany me to buy food.
But that wasn’t the case for the past two weeks. He has been ignoring me and not talking to me, only replying to my IMs with bland one-liners.
“Franco,” came his straight answer, and he looked up at me, his eyes unreadable. “He’s taking all of your time, Luisa.”
I winced when he called me that. “I haven’t seen him in a long while—”
“You saw him last December, at your batch reunion, Lui. And I don’t think not seeing him for a couple of months would merit seeing him for three weeks straight at lunch times.”
I sighed at the coldness of his voice. “Yael—”
“Tell me, are you guys together now?” he cut me off, and I stopped, not speaking. To be frank, I don’t even know what Franco and I are. We’re friends, sure. But other than that, I have no clear direction as to what I am to him.
“No,” I said after a short while. “Then don’t have lunch with him today, and stay with me and the entire group at the lunch table. No buts,” Yael said firmly, and then he turned to leave, his coffee still on the countertop.
I picked up his coffee and went to his cubicle. “Why is it an issue, huh?” I asked him, trying to control the tone of my voice. “I’m single—I can see whomever I want to see.”
He took the cup of coffee from me forcefully, spilling some on my hand. He didn’t even bother to apologize. He just went around his desk and slumped onto his seat. “Gee, Luisa, you are just so dense,” Yael said, frustration evident in his voice. I stopped, not really knowing what to say. I might have stared at him—just plainly stared—wondering why in the world Yael is changing the status quo.
I took a deep breath, trying to recover. “Maybe I’m not dense,” I started to say. “Maybe you’re just not clear as to what this—” I pointed to him and me—“is. I hate gray areas, Yael. You, of all people, know that. You have to lay it down to me in black and white—else I’m just gonna ignore you.”
Yael looked up at me, a smirk on his lips and a pained look in his eyes.
“If you hate the gray areas, Luisa, then what are you doing with Franco?”
I opened my mouth to counter, but I couldn’t come up with anything. I watched as Yael shook his head, muttered that he’s going to go back to work, and swiveled his chair around.
“You’ve been awfully silent.”
I looked up at Franco and tried to smile. He reached out and placed a hand atop of mine. I was spacing out. Yael’s fault.I ignored the soup that had just been served and placed my attention on his thumb that was grazing my skin, tracing lines on my palm.
I just shook my head. “It’s nothing,” I tried to lie, but he wouldn’t have it.
“Come on, Lui. Try me.”
I took a deep breath, and then decided to brave through it. I wasn’t going to stay in the gray area any longer.
“What are we?” I asked, my voice coming out almost in a whisper. I lowered my eyes and tried not to look at him, but he lifted my chin so that we were eye to eye. “I mean, we can be just friends, and that I may just be looking into this too much—or I’m just assuming—”
I stopped when I saw that Franco was smiling. “What?” I asked, my cheeks flaring.
“I love you, Lui.”
Franco flashed me his smile that I liked from way back in high school and started to love right now. “I said I love you.” He moved his hand from my chin, and he clasped both my hands in his, tightly. “I enjoy your company, even from way before in high school. I… just didn’t have the guts to court you back then. Besides, you were always ogling over Dan or AJ,” he teased, and I rolled my eyes.
“But the truth is, I love you. I. Love. You,” Franco said, emphasizing the last three words. “And while all of this may seem so fast—”
I leaned over the table, over the molo soup and iced teas, over our chilled drinks and mobile phones on silent, in the middle of the bustling restaurant, I leaned over and kissed him.
At first he didn’t react, surprise taking the best of him, but his recovery time was fast at just two seconds. I felt his hand slide over my nape and he finally responded. I could feel his lips forming into a smile, and true enough, when I released him, he was grinning like he won a Ferrari.
“Lui,” Franco breathed, and I smiled. The waiter arrived with our lechon kawali and left to get our other orders, and I counted ten seconds before I finally spoke again.
“I love you,” I whispered back.
No more gray areas.