With the clouds threatening to pour anytime soon, Dennis steps up his pace. It’s past noon but the bright sun and the heat that have come to torment the poor souls of the city are conspicuously absent at this moment. Today, the winds are blowing.

A few seconds later, he reaches the fast food restaurant. He opens the door, scans the area and sees a familiar face seated a few meters from the door. The woman is looking out the window, like waiting for the first drop of the rain. He approaches, and the woman senses this, looking at him with the look of a child who has just found her mom at the airport after losing her a few minutes earlier.

“Hey, Meg,” he says as he sits across her.

“Hi,” Meg replies. Her voice is full of innocence, yet her face suggests like the 25 years she have lived have taken their toll on her. The lines under her oriental eyes give away yet another sleepless night. Even in a haggard state, she gives off an elegant vibe that always throws him off and leaves him defenseless.

“What was the text about?” Dennis asks him.

Just an hour before, while working on the layout of a poster he needs to submit to the client – a donut company – he unexpectedly receives a text message from Meg, asking him if he’s free for lunch.

Of course, he’s free for lunch. Everybody’s free for lunch. But that’s the time he normally sits with his colleagues at the pantry table and talk about anything other than designing posters and writing copies for clients.

Yet something about Meg’s text sounds urgent. More so when it has been days since they’ve talked. And to him, those days of silence meant so much, because they used to talk a lot.

So he said yes, he’s free. He asked her why and where would they meet. She said she would be waiting at the fast food restaurant across the park three blocks from where Dennis works. Just that.

Her eyes disappear as she smiles, which instantly turn into a controlled giggle. “I just need someone to talk to,” she says.

Dennis looks at her with a mock sneer. He has always known her to be an elusive soul. Much as he tries, he can’t completely figure her out, and he’s gotten used to that.

“Aren’t you gonna order something first?” she asks him.

“Aren’t YOU gonna order something?” he replies, nodding to the empty table between them.

“I was actually waiting for you,” she says. “I can’t leave this table or we’ll lose it. Look around. It’s lunch hour. This place is packed.”

“It’s a good thing that I’m here now, isn’t it?”

“You know what I like,” she says, handing him a crisp hundred-peso bill as he stands.

About ten minutes later, Dennis returns with a tray of two plates of a fried chicken and a serving of rice each, as well as two glasses of iced tea.

“I feel so much better,” Meg says. Dennis sits on his chair and hands her her fried chicken and iced tea.

“What happened?” he asks, his attention at the change for Meg’s order. He then gives her a handful of coins.

“I seriously don’t know,” Meg says, taking the coins and stashing them on her purse. “But the past few days really helped me. Before, there was always a fake smile plastered on my face. This time, almost every day, the smiles are real.”

She takes a bite of his chicken, and Dennis follows suit. He looks at her for a moment, wondering if another attempt at totally figuring her out would yield results this time.

“Well,” he sighs, “what was exactly weighing you down?”

She shrugs. “Lots.”

“It’s about Charles, isn’t it?”

“He’s about 49 percent of what broke me,” she says with a hurt smile. “Actually, those issues are still weighing me down, though this time I can manage to look at the bright side and actually do something worthy.”

“Like what? I heard you’re doing a photography project.”

“Who told you?”

“No one,” he answers. He’s hoping to get his fair share of mystery. He senses she’s holding something back and if that’s the case, he might as well keep a few secrets of his own.

Instead, he tries to keep the spotlight on her. “What’s your project about?”

She squints at him, trying to determine whether this was real curiosity or just a ploy to get deeper into her mind.

“I’m actually working on two projects,” she says. “One is about the coffee culture here in the city. You know how the third wave coffee has been taken seriously by the people here, right?

He nods. “I feel them. Who can say no to a good cup of coffee, right?”

She just shrugs again.

Dennis takes another bite of the chicken. “So how’s the coffee project coming along?”

“I don’t know,” she says, taking a sip of her iced tea. “I can’t seem to get it off the ground.”

He trains his eyes on her. “What was the other project about?”

“It’s about female sexuality,” she says, then pauses. “Don’t laugh.”

“Do I look like I’m laughing?”

She looks at him, but not to check on whether he’s laughing, but just to study his face, like trying to let it sink in that Dennis is actually here, sitting across the table, a few feet from her.

“You know, I really missed you,” she tells him.

“I missed you, too,” he says in the most platonic tone, if ever there was one, that he can come up with. “You virtually disappeared.”

“I know.”

“Is it because of Charles?”

She lets out another controlled laugh, covering her mouth to avoid the food she’s chewing from spilling out. She then resumes chewing and swallows hard. “That was the reason at first.”

He waits for a follow-up response, but after a few seconds of silence, there is none. So it was him who followed up. “So why weren’t you replying to any texts, or any message in Facebook or Twitter?”

“Because i’m trying to get a life outside social networks,” she says. “I want to stop lazing around.”

Her voice is filled with so much matter-of-factness, he actually believes it’s the truth.

“Nice,” he says. “I actually think spending time in front of the computer contributes to depression.”

“I guess so,” she shrugs.

She looks at him straight in his eyes, the way she always does that makes his soul melt. “Dennis, thank you,” she says. He can sense her smile is genuine.

“For what?”

“For being the only guy that I can talk to about practically anything without feeling awkward.”

“Well, then, thank you, too, for your trust.”

“Yeah, trust is kind of not easy to gain so thank you, really. You are possibly the only person who can see past my defenses.”

“You know, I find it amazing that how, of all people, it’s the two of us who grew close to each other.”

“We’re each other’s life support, that’s why.”

He manages a smile for the first time. Deep inside him, he knows if the situation has been ideal, he’ll fall for her. He can’t afford to have that thought, though, so he quickly shifts gears and asks her another question. “So what are you up to? I mean, aside from photography?”

She flashes another smile. “Traveling.”

Dennis’ smile grows wider. She got his full attention. “So that’s why you disappeared?”

“Uh-huh. I went by myself to a beach, tried surfing.”

“Nice. Wish you took me with you, though.”

“And I’m planning to go solo to Malaysia or Indonesia.”

“When?”

“Maybe next month. Or the month after that.”

She takes a bite of her chicken and then a spoonful of rice, which is down to the last few bites.

“I want to go to Paris, though,” she says afterwards.

“Believe me, you will one day.”

“You know romanticism?”

“That intellectual movement in Europe? Yeah. What about it?”

“I find it intriguing.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know. I’m just amazed by every literature, painting and music related to the romantic period.”

“You really love Europe, don’t you?”

“Yeah. Does that make me weird?”

“Not at all. It makes you, uh, I don’t know, sophisticated?”

“Of course you would say that. We have the same kind of mindset.”

“Honestly, I think you are far more intelligent.”

“I am not. I am just easily fascinated by the strangest things in world.”

“Then you have a curious mind, which is good.”

The skies have started to darken more. The trees are swaying even more violently. Suddenly, the rain starts falling down strong. People in the streets are darting for cover. It’s barely one, yet the sky is as dark as if its six in the evening, when Dennis goes out of the office to the bus stop. Only the large glass windows are keeping Dennis and Meg from getting drenched from the pounding rain. Meg looks outside for a moment, then looks at Dennis again.

“I guess I’m just gonna have to tell you something.”

At last, Dennis thinks. At last, I’m really getting past her defenses.

“I was going to ask you something, too, actually,” he says. “But go ahead.”

Meg takes another sip of her iced tea, the slurping noise indicating that she has exhausted all the cup’s contents. She then takes a deep breath.

Dennis just looks at her. “Yeah?”

“Charles,” Meg says, taking another deep breath. “ I’m over him. He may be an asshole for treating me the way he did, for not keeping the promises he made. But it doesn’t matter anymore. I believe it happened for a reason. When I fell in love with him and he liked me back, there was something between us.”

Dennis doesn’t say anything. He’s waiting for her to go on with her story. Deep inside, he already has an idea that this is what’s been bugging Meg all along, but he wants it to come from her. He wants her to acknowledge the pain and be the strong woman he always knew.

Meg turns her eyes away from Dennis and goes on. “The whole thing between us didn’t actually last long. In fact, you could say it wasn’t a real relationship. But I knew we had something special. So when he picked his ex over me, it felt like it was like the same thing that my dad did when he left us for his mistress. I don’t want to sound arrogant but I believe that I am much better than Charles’ ex. I mean, you even said it. I am a better woman than Charles’ ex. But I am not questioning his decision. It’s just that, since he left me, there’s this insecurity that has been growing inside me, whispering at the back of my mind that maybe I’m too skinny or too ugly, that maybe my breasts are too small. Or maybe I am too shattered and that my life is too messed up, that I scared him away.  And I’m worried. That maybe someday when I fall in love again, I’ll walk away because the first time that I did, the guy I loved didn’t fight for me when I did. I don’t want to walk away when I do fall again someday. I don’t want to reject love and its surprises. But, at the same time, I’m scared of being hurt.”

Dennis can see that Meg is trying to fight back her tears. Even he himself doesn’t know what to say. He has always known that Meg has never gotten over Charles, even when she kept on saying that she has. So her revelation isn’t really much of a surprise. It’s how she opened herself up to him that caught him off-guard. Something about what she said cut him deep, in part because she really feels sorry for Meg, and in part because he also has issues with his feelings for Rachel.

He takes a deep breath. “Meg,” he calls her. “Look at me.”

She does.

“Don’t think that way,” he says. “First off, you’re not the worthless person you think you are. I can’t say it enough, but you are a very wonderful woman.”

He pauses as he struggles to find the words. He’s not just saying it. He really believes Meg is a wonderful woman. And lucky is any guy who gets her to fall for him.

“It’s just that relationships are very complicated,” he manages to say. “A lot of factors come into play. Chemistry, timing, the personality of the couple, the things and people around them, and so on. Just because Charles picked someone else over you doesn’t mean you were ‘less than’ the other woman. Something just didn’t click with Charles about you. I don’t know. Maybe, like you said, he likes bigger breasts, or women with happier dispositions. But it doesn’t make you less of a wonderful woman. It just means he was not the right fit for you. It’s tough to admit, but that’s how it is.”

His voice trails off as his words remind him of his own failures with Rachel. How deeply he is hurt of Rachel not seeming to fight to keep him. How the simple words “I love you” can have drastic repercussions if not said correctly.

He looks outside. The rains continue to pound the pavement. It’s an indecipherable blur outside with the water flowing down the glass window.

“About being scared to fall again,” he says, “yeah, I know. I really do. Funny you should say that because that was what I’m about to ask you about Rachel. And you got me thinking about my question. Yeah, love can be brutal, it can be scary, not knowing what it might bring.”

Something about what he said seems to strike Meg, who manages a faint smile.

“It isn’t tough to admit now, actually,” she says. “I have accepted that fact. And I’m glad that I feel free. I guess you just fight for what matters to you, for what you love.”

Dennis just looks at her, trying to find a reason for her sudden enlightenment. Just a few minutes before, her voice was tinged with insecurity and sadness. Now she speaks like she’s mastered the path to happiness.

Then he remembers what she said. We’re each other’s lifeline. We only need each other’s presence to be alright again. And that’s what happened. Dennis being here and listening to Meg brought her calmness.

“The ironic thing about love is that it can be brutal and painful and destructive,” Meg says. “But it actually is the only thing worth fighting for in this world.”

Dennis smiles. This time, it’s filled with actual joy. “I hope that when you find that love again, you will have the courage to open your heart. It’s scary, but that’s what makes love so wonderful. The fact that when you overcome your fear, it makes all the pain worth it.”

“Yeah, exactly,” she says.

As sudden as it started, the rain stops. People slowly get out of sheds and buildings, and soon enough, the streets are filled with crowds once more. Dennis glances at his watch. “It’s past one. My lunch break is over. I have to go.”

Meg just smiles.

“I wish I can stay and chat with you more, but I have a deadline to meet,” Dennis says.

“It’s okay,” she shrugs. “I should be going as well.”

With that, they stand up, and step outside the restaurant. They hug each other for a few seconds.

“Well, I hope I made you feel much better,” Dennis sighs.

“You did,” she smiles. “You did.”

And they part ways.

Image from http://www.wallpaperup.com/

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