It was a present day Disney retelling that was filled with eaten words and the right wrong timing.
It ruined promises to the self, about quitting bad habits and falling for the wrong people. But the forces were too strong and how can one person evade destiny anyway?
Jas was tired. She was tired of the same corridors and the same halls with far too many new faces and far too less familiar ones. Her last year was like her first all over again, with loneliness stronger felt and cradled.
When he entered the lift and stayed by the door, right into the little space she had, holding the door open for people going in and out, Jas liked how steady he seemed against the waves of people leaving and entering. She wanted that. A person who stayed beside her.
He looked her way and their eyes met. A dimple deepened on his cheek. Before Jas knew it, her heart had leaped, and the recognition of what would follow was so instant, she had nervous pangs. She prayed that the seventeen more floors of rising would finish in haste and this can all be forgotten.
It wasn’t. Because she thought he was just holding the door out for her on her floor. But he went out right after her and remained a long shadow just behind her, then opening the classroom door.
That was it. When he wrote down his name right after Jas, and sat beside her, he introduced himself. Nathan. She had whispered the name over and over again, watching her favourite series, in it her favourite character, hoping to have her own. Here he was.
Jas knew this was trouble brewing. But oh, how trouble was packaged. In a wonderful encasing of flesh and bone, he wasn’t hard to look at and all the gazes they shared made it harder to bear.
Conversation came easily. What they had was a math subject and their professor put so much effort in keeping the vein on her temple from throbbing, every time students asked for a repetition. Jas and Nathan quickly bonded through work done and not done together. Pretty soon no lunch passed them by apart. Nathan would eat a lot. He would grin sheepishly and offer up reasons about being an athlete as his eyes dart through the choices, picking up so much that he had to ask Jas to hold some for him. He charmed the lunch ladies with polite talk and small banter. Jas would watch him from the sidelines, trying to mull over why it was so important to him to make small talk with them. Then she realized, with rising panic, that he was truly a good guy.
After the small talk, he’d turn to her, his long lashes framing beautiful eyes, easing onto the small favours given and bestowed. Hold this, hold that, let me carry your bag, let me see that. They developed a co-dependency that just strengthened their bond. Nathan was meeting her at the train station and walking her to class.
It seemed so easy. He made everything easy and he always had a smirk. His dimples would push into his cheeks before his lips would curve and Jas was lost in conversations she would be part of in a haze, recounting every detail only after it happened.
“I wanted to tell you something last night,” that was his opening line, holding onto his phone. “But I realized I didn’t have your number, so can I have it?” Jas blinked because she couldn’t believe it had taken him so long. His lips were pursed now and he was looking down, bouncing slightly on the balls of his feet.
“Uh, sure,” and with that, she tried to swallow all the awkwardness in the air with one intake of breath, and exhale out numbers, breathy from being held onto for too long.
The smile played on his lips and he walked her to class.
That weekend, a few text messages into this friendship, feeling more brazen after a few sips of intoxication, she called him.
“Come here,” she told him, out of her normal self and into her innermost feelings. “Come meet me,” she said, swallowing when she realized what she had just said, waiting for the rejection and the pang of pain before it had even come.
“Okay,” was his steady reply. There was no doubt, no hesitation and that settled Jas’ fears more than alcohol ever could.
He was there a few moments after, smiling at her, then buying her a drink, steadying her when she slightly swayed, a true lightweight on all vices. He didn’t seem to mind.
Nathan leaned in, and pressed his large hands on the sides of her face, a frown furrowing his brows, smoothed by a smile. “Your face is red. Are you alright?” concerned marked his tone.
“Why are you always smiling?” was her slow motion response. In her blurry sight, she saw his lips tug up again.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” he answered lightly, handing her some water which she obediently sips.
Night drew on. He asked how she was going home and she was sure she mumbled “Parents” because she was conscious when he helped her towards the car bay. He sat her on the bench, gentle, warm hands wrapping onto her skin, spreading the heat. Jas knew without having to look that she was getting redder.
He sat beside her, watching out for her. Jas felt safe, safe enough to stare at him and really see him. The lights were blinking from store signs and lamp lights, cars passing by brightened the darkness. She saw his face through passing gleams, illuminated and then shadowed again. And though Jas knew the light was playing with her vision, there was an inexplicable sadness in his stance, a certain grief in his eyes that couldn’t be hidden at the cover of drink and night.
That was when Jas wished for Nathan. She wished for Nathan, who she knew deep down, was trying so hard to live life despite its recurring messes but that was alright. Because so was she.
She was told that magic doesn’t happen if one doesn’t believe and she so wanted magic that she dared to believe.
But after she wished, a large vehicle’s lights blinded her and she was plagued by memories. Of past love, of lies and hurt and she wanted to crumple and cry. She wanted to say out loud the fact that it hurt, but she didn’t want it to, anymore. And there was just a point that positivity can’t reach and was taking time to heal.
“Let’s do this again,” he suddenly chirped up. He chuckled at a memory and one look at her scowl just made him chuckle more. “Don’t worry, I promise to take care of you.”
She wanted to shake her head. So instead she turned away because her eyes were moist and she was cursing herself for being susceptible to bouts of sobbing when she drank.
She wanted to believe him. Those were words she had waited for in another time, but she had never gotten but sorely needed. Now she just couldn’t believe them at once.
I can’t, because yours is the steady road to oblivion and already, I’m feeling myself walking blindly towards the consuming path.
Her car arrived and she got in. He helped her to her seat and closed the door after. She watched him wait for the car to drive away, and her eyes closed of their own accord, imprinting the memory for longer days.
Monday came and Nathan expected a stronger bond, an intimacy that was formed through plea and favour. It had not. Jas was all smiles, but her guard was up. For a week, Nathan tried to no avail to make her open up.
At the end of the week, he braved to ask, “Is this something we need to talk about?”
He wanted a chance and she could give it, but not today.
“Maybe,” she half-admitted, wanting to meet his eyes but the distance was too long and it was easier to bow her head. “I’m not yet ready.”
“Okay,” was his grim reply, and oh, how it ached for the same word to express feelings so differently.
It was another week before Jas could talk. Nathan hadn’t bothered to show up in class, and she remembered the first day and the feeling of isolation. If Nathan had wanted Jas to realize how much he had filled her life, he was doing a great job.
Jas found him on the court. He was concentrating on a hoop of netting. She could see the beads of sweat on his forehead and temples, could see the glisten of perspiration on his form. She watched him. Nathan’s concentration was full on and he poised to shoot the ball.
It didn’t shoot into the ring. It bumped onto the side and flew right over Jas’ head. Nathan’s eyes followed the ball and landed on her.
He was about to walk right past her, but she reached for his wrist and he stayed put, surprised by the contact.
“I’m ready to talk,” she finally voiced out. She wanted to explain, to tell him it wasn’t his fault. She was hurt badly before and she was afraid to go through it again. For a while. But not anymore.
All he said was, “Jas, I like you. It’s that simple.” He turned towards her and his eyes were soft and he wasn’t smiling.
She could only nod her head. A part of her wanted to say it wasn’t. It was complicated and like is the first step to love and the labyrinth doesn’t have a viable exit where no one can leave unscathed. She knew he was right though. It was. It began as simple as that.
So this is what it felt, she now recognized it for how it was, how it felt to want someone and to be wanted back. If they said this was at the end, no matter how unsure it would be, she would have taken it again.
“It should be that simple, and I promise,” and now she met his gaze and didn’t shy away. “I’ll stay.”
By Guia Galvez
For Iris, who knows the secret to making magic.