My days were starting to get longer and longer and longer as the thesis deadline looms like a big dark gray cloud about to consume me had I chosen to ignore it. The added pressure of my other majors and my electives—tell me, why did I take Italian 11 again? At 7 in the morning, no less?—was also weighing down on me. I was starting to be your Little Miss Grumpy, Little Miss Absent-Can-I-Take-A-Raincheck, Little Miss Too-Stressed-To-Have-Fun. Our computer shop trips were quickly transformed to library runs, with you giving up on me after a couple of hours and heading out to play DOTA. Our movie nights were gone as I spent overnighter after overnighter; my money spent on thesis and thesis alone.
And my birthday was looming too, as you reminded me, a day after the first draft of thesis deadline.
On one hand, I was happy, because it meant we made it—we are going to graduate on time, because we’ve finished our data gathering and our analysis has framework already but no meat just yet—while on the other hand I wasn’t looking forward to getting a year older. To top it off, I’ll be so emotionally and physically drained on my birthday that I couldn’t care less how to celebrate it.
But you do, right, Webb? You cared enough to make my 20th fun.
I had a 7AM class on the day of my birthday, and when I was heading out, you were already outside the door of my boarding house, a bouquet of roses in hand. Red roses. Fun, fresh, fragrant red roses. A dozen of them. Shall I keep on raving on how those roses brightened up my day?
And how they now lay dry and wilted, pretty much how our ‘friendship’ went?
You handed me a paper bag, a big one that is half as tall as I was. When I peeked inside, I cussed, because Webb, you got me that big Cookie Monster stuffed toy I wanted all my life.
In my excitement I pulled you into me and I hugged you, and you hugged me back, tighter than I have ever been held, and when we pulled away from each other, your smile was wider than mine.
“Well, glad you liked the gifts,” you said, clearing your throat, a blush creeping up your face. You were almost as red as the roses, but I didn’t say anything. “Happy birthday, Lizzie,” you said, and I just beamed at you. I ran upstairs, leaving the roses and the stuffed toy, and then we headed out, you taking me to my class.
But the day wasn’t all bright, right, Webb? If anything, the next moment was probably the dullest.
We turned at the same time towards the group of people who called your name. I recognized them as the guys who were in your inter-collegiate basketball team, the one you still play for (and the one whom you will still play for even if you shifted to PolSci since it’s the same college). I endured about three minutes of manly and friendly banter before the boys finally shifted their attentions to me.
“You must be Cecile.”
I heard you choke next to me, Webb. I was pretty sure you weren’t expecting that.
Who in the hell is Cecile?
“Um, nope. Liz,” I said, when it became apparent that you couldn’t recover just in time to save yourself from the hell that your teammates put you in.
“My friend,” you followed up, and I just nodded, slowly at first, and then bitterly, looking up for a split second because I felt the tears rushing in.
You placed me in the friendzone again, Webb. After the roses, the Cookie Monster, all those movie nights and those days we spent in the computer shops. After the holding hands and the quiet moments. After the big life decisions we tried to figure out. After the text marathons. After the countless of basketball games I watched as your cheerleader.
I was a friend.
“Oh yeah… You did tell us about her,” was your friend’s lame attempt to make me feel better. I just gave him a fake smile, gave you a fake smile, and then mumbled, “Late for class,” and I was off. You tried to call me back, but I wouldn’t have it—it was still too painful and I couldn’t accept it.
Who was Cecile, Webb?
In the middle of everything we were doing, you still found time for a Cecile?!
It was a deep sword you thrust into me, Webb. A double-edged kind: that I was (just) your friend, and there was a Cecile.
The worse thing about my birthday—well, aside from that act you pulled on me—was that I only had one class, that 7AM one, which meant my day had a very early start despite all the sleepless nights prior. I was already heading home to sleep—I was getting cranky, and that scene you made me go through that morning just made my mood even worse. I didn’t need to see you but you were there, outside my classroom, waiting. You didn’t leave when I left, you stayed when I couldn’t, and it was fine at this instance because I think you were the one at fault here.
Was it wrong, Webb, to not ask for explanations? I was too tired, and I didn’t need any more drama. And I think you saw it, because you stopped—you stopped apologizing and you stopped from launching into your explanation, not that I needed it at that moment. I didn’t need it then, I guess, because I was tired, but I need it now, Webb, because it’s confusing how everything happened, how the timelines overlapped, and how everything was gone.
Will we have lasted, became more concrete and real, if I asked and demanded more? If I begged you to put a label on whatever it was we shared, will you not be one of the ones that got away? If I braved through it, told you I think we’re something more than friends, what would you have said, Webb?
You nodded, dropped your head and took a deep breath. When you looked at me again, there were so many words written on your face that I wasn’t sure why I wasn’t able to read them. Was it because I lacked sleep or because you’re confused too? Was it because I hoped, you’d say everything, right at that moment, with you not bothering to care that I can’t handle anything right now?
“Let’s go home,” was all you said, and I just nodded. You took my hand and I followed, blindly, as we went home to your place.
It was already dark when I woke up, and I could hear you singing—more like murdering David Cook’s version of Always Be My Baby—somewhere in the apartment. I rolled off the bed, tried to fix my hair, and then went out, and I had the most beautiful and amusing scene in front of me.
You arranged mini-cupcakes—later on I counted and there were twenty mini-cupcakes, which was my age—on a plate, with the mini-cupcake on the center carrying a lone blue and white candle. The smell of pancit canton wafted in the air—instant pancit canton. Closer inspection revealed you were preparing two hot and spicy and two original flavored ones.
I stood there, just watching you, leaning against the doorjamb, because I was taking in the moment. I didn’t care about just friends, I didn’t care about Cecile—all that I cared about was you standing there, in front of me, trying to make my birthday special.
Webb, thank you. The little things, the little simple things, are all I needed that day.
“Did you have a good sleep?”
I didn’t notice you’ve already stopped singing. I wiped the wistful smile on my face and walked over to you, stopping just when my bare feet are touching yours. “I did. Thanks,” I told you, and you shrugged. You playfully touched my cheek, saying, “Well, at least you’re smiling now. This morning you were still my Little Miss Grumpy.”
I rolled my eyes at that quip and took a step back, but not before you trapped me in your arms, hugging me, and whispered to my ear, “Happy birthday, Elizabeth. A year older and a year wiser.”
When I stepped back, I grinned at you. “I don’t know about the last part, but thanks,” I said, and I pranced away from you. I wanted to kiss you at that moment, Webb, and it wasn’t just because I was thankful for everything you’ve done. I wanted you, at that moment more than ever, but what stopped me was the uncertainty that always came with you.
I was at the table, eyeing the mini-cupcakes when you popped next to me, the pancit canton all cooked and done, separated into two plates. The smell made my tummy grumble and I realized I haven’t eaten since this morning.
You whisked out a matchbox and lit the candle, and you turned to me. “Blow the candle, Lizzie. Make a wish,” you said softly, and I closed my eyes, and wished and wished.
You tried to ask me, loads of times, what my wish was that night, but I wouldn’t give in. You see, I wished for certainty and security—concerning you and life in general. I wished you’d be sure, Webb, about me and about us. I wished I would graduate this April without any other hiccups.
I batted one out of two of those wishes, Webb. You knew which one came to reality.
You weren’t there during Valentine’s, Webb. I half-expected another bouquet of roses, another stuffed toy, a simple day with you, no frills. I can do the pancit canton gig over and over because it didn’t matter about all the lavishness, Webb. You didn’t text, you didn’t call. I didn’t feel you.
Did you vanish again, Webb?
Where were you?