It’s two in the afternoon.
Except for a man in his forties dressed in a white barong with nose buried in his laptop, there’s no one in the coffee shop beside Dennis.
Sitting by the large window, Dennis is embracing the warm rays of the sun shining through. In front of him is a cup of coffee mixed with milk and two teaspoons of sugar. There are a few drops on the saucer, but other than that, it looks as if the cup hasn’t been touched yet. Beside it is a half-finished tuna puff.
He stares blankly at a random point outside, unmindful of the vehicles passing, the pedestrians walking and the generally peaceful vibe of the surroundings. Despite the sunny weather, the air is relatively cool, a sign of the impending Christmas season.
There is an odd calmness that permeates inside him. Far different from the emotional turbulence of the previous days.
Just a week ago, he and Meg had another conversation in another fast food restaurant. A lot has happened in the six months they didn’t see each other; Dennis had changed jobs and Meg has since focused on her fledgling business of designing notebook covers.
And while it was visible through Meg’s face that she is no longer a hostage of her emotions, Dennis that time was obviously struggling to get his act together. And it was his turn to be desperate to talk to Meg.
While sitting at the restaurant fiddling with his phone, Meg arrived in a white shirt, jeans and flops. Her hair, much shorter now, fell to her shoulders, and there was a look of peace in her eyes, much different from her haggard state six months earlier. The fact that she looked like she had just stepped out of the shower seemed to give her a more refreshed look.
“Hey,” she called Dennis.
“Hey,” Dennis replied, finishing the last piece of fries from the tray. He takes a sip of his soda and lets out a silent burp.
Meg looked at the mess of ketchup on the paper place mat, then trained her eyes on Dennis. “What’s bugging you so much that you had to swallow your pride and apologize to me?”
Dennis stared at him for a few seconds before managing to say something. “I’m sorry for my outburst. You didn’t deserve it. I was overwhelmed by…”
“By?” Meg asked, filling in the awkward silence.
“Things,” Dennis answered.
Two months ago, the two were talking to each other on the Internet. Meg was trying to ask for advice on color schemes for a design study, and Dennis begged off, saying he was busy. One thing led to another and before Dennis realized it, he shouted – or at least the online version of shouting – at Meg.
Since then, the communication lines with each other had been closed. Until now.
Meg sneered and examined Dennis. She squinted and her oriental eyes disappeared. “I hate you so much. Do you know how pissed I was at you? Be thankful because I read my journal and saw ‘See Dennis get into a long-term relationship’ in my bucket list, which is why, miraculously, I warmed to you again.”
She stared at Dennis for a few more moments before letting out a laugh.
Dennis bit his lip. “I know, you have all the right to get mad. And I’m really sorry. My stress levels have since gone down so I hope we’re okay.”
Meg turned serious. “So what happened?”
“As usual,” Dennis said.
Meg looked at him. He was there to listen and provide comfort when she was on the verge of breaking down, and the least she can do was be the lifeline this time.
“I’ve got advice for you,” she said. “Let her go.”
Dennis looked at her. For some reason, her words were full of assertiveness. Was this the insecure woman I was giving advice to before? he thought.
“Yeah, I’ve thought about that,” he said. “But it’s hard.”
Meg leaned forward, placed her elbows on the table with her chin resting on her palms. “Well, I don’t mean that in a way that you completely avoid her, and that you’re closing the doors on her for good. But you’ve obviously been doing so much to fix things and it’s causing more harm than good, so why not take a step back and focus on yourself first?”
“I know,” he said. “It’s just things have changed faster than I could process them, and I guess I just need assurance… even closure.”
“Sometimes, not having assurance is the appeal of love,” she said. “And not having closure is closure itself.”
Dennis stared at Meg with a look of utter disbelief.
Meg leaned back on her chair. “Look, this is the biggest cliche in moving on, but, after all this, if she’s really for you, you will end up together. If not, then it means you’re meant for someone who is, like what you told me that time, the right fit for you.”
“It’s different in your case. There was another woman with Charles. It really isn’t that simple.”
“Of course not. Who said love isn’t complicated? And whether there’s a third party or not, the issue is you have to focus on yourself.”
“I am trying to improve,” Dennis said. “I just want to know if it’s still worth the fight. I mean, I want to stand up to what I feel for her, I just need to have a purpose. That this won’t be all for waste in the end.”
“Yeah,” Meg rolled her eyes. “But here’s how I see the situation. You are trying to improve yourself, but you’re basing your improvements on her standards, which is causing you frustration. You’re trying to focus on yourself, but you’re also focusing on her. You’re doing too much and it’s straining you emotionally.”
Meg sighed. She stood up and went to the counter. After a few minutes, she returned with two cups of water.
“There,” she said, placing one cup in front of Dennis, and sat on her chair once more. “My treat.”
She drank a few gulps.
“Look, even if she gives you a chance, it won’t change the fact that you have to focus on yourself and improve because you have to improve.”
They look at each other for another round of awkward silence. Dennis drank his cup of water.
“Dennis, you’re not seeing the big picture. You have to know your priorities. You can’t fight for someone if you yourself do not know how to fight. You have to find that sword and armor first for yourself. You can’t fight if you’re bad at fighting. Train yourself first. Develop your confidence. Nourish your emotions.”
“Nice metaphor,” Dennis chuckled.
Meg ignored her. “Remember, I used to cling to that idea that someone was born to be with me and to save me. But I learned my lesson the hard way. I learned it because the knight that was supposed to save me abandoned me and rescued another lady instead. And that was when I found out that I wasn’t meant to be a damsel-in-distress. And neither was the man I fell in love with the hero that I thought he was. Underneath that armor was a villain.”
A young couple entered the restaurant with the woman clutching the man’s arm. Her head leaned on the man’s shoulder. Meg looked at them for a few moments.
“You remember when we agreed on how cruel love is?” Meg said, still staring at the couple. Then he looked at Dennis. “I realized we were wrong. I learned that love is only cruel if we’re too focused on the romantic kind. After our talk that day, I was reminded of how love is such a great thing. You being there, taking off a part of your time to listen to me, being a very great friend, that was still love. It’s not just about romance. Since then, I’ve been getting fulfillment by seeking different forms of love. I’ve been doing a lot of volunteering and I’ve never felt better. That also includes loving myself. It’s not narcissism. It’s just self-respect. It sounds sour-graping but the truth is, I have been happier that Charles chose to leave me. It forced me to learn a lot of things, most of all that we can’t place our purpose entirely on other people’s hands.”
Dennis was dumbfounded. “Why are you so intelligent?”
“I am not. You’re just immature.”
Dennis laughed. “I know, right?”
Meg laughed, too. “Anyway, you haven’t answered my question on the color scheme for the notebook cover.”
“You still need my opinion?” he asked.
“Yes, I still do, you jerk,” she said. “That was also why I decided to see you.”
The last few weeks have been an emotional roller coaster ride for Dennis. Looking back, the past months were amazing. Wild. Beautiful, even. In between all of the major moments, the bullet points on the narrow timeline of this past six months, there’s been a whole lot of figuring it out.
It was easy to get lost in sadness and the “what-ifs” when things didn’t pan out with Rachel the way he expected them to, but what really made it unhealthy was that he allowed himself to remain in that feeling for long without really making an effort to work past it.
It’s only now that he truly understands what Meg said. Framing love solely as being a romantic idea can do a pretty big disservice to how great a love of friendship can be. The personality traits that make someone a desirable partner generally make them a great friend, too.
Not having assurance is the appeal of love, Meg said. And exploring the possibilities of relationships, building strong foundations through trust and confidence – that’s what he needs to focus on.
Let that pain die down a bit, Dennis thinks, and when it doesn’t hurt anymore to think about Rachel, that’s a good sign that he’s at a point to reach out again and try to pick the friendship back up. It will be a little awkward at first, but a friendship with solid foundation can withstand a little awkwardness now and then. Over time, most relationships will.
A group of students from a nearby university enters the coffee shop, laughing so loudly. Dennis gets the earphones from his pocket, plugs it into his phone and plays an old RnB song.
A smile finds its way to his lips. He shakes his head, amused by how silly things have been, looking back.
He picks up the cup of coffee, sips a little and takes a pen and notepad from his pocket. Finally, after days of creative drought, his mind produces a string of thought and he starts writing it down.