|Fourteenth of February
Author: Segunda Katigbak PM
It was the fourteenth of February when they met again. Things could have happened differently.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Angst - Words: 2,752 - Favs: 1 - Published: 10-05-12 - Status: Complete - id: 3063201
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The Fourteenth of February
It was the fourteenth of February when they met again.
She was known only by the name, 'The One That Got Away.' Keiichi didn't talk about her much. An ex-lover like that who caused a lot of heartbreak, their names only popped up in drinking parties when the person involved were too drunk to come up with enough coherency to actually make sense. Not that we minded either; our own befuddled minds were lost in our own inebriated subconscious. Hence, if Keiichi ever mentioned her name, we've either downed enough vodka to last us the night or remember anything of much essence.
Details of how their relationship came to be were vague and disorientated. In the very little that I remembered from his stories, what he regretted the most was that moment when he let her go without a word from his part. I remembered the details of that afternoon when they said good bye. She asked him what he wanted to tell her but he didn't say a word.
"I couldn't tell her how much I loved her," he said to me. "We stood there, looking at each other's eyes without saying anything. I wanted to kiss her but I couldn't do anything. I couldn't say anything. Instead, I walked away. I took that damned guitar instead and walked away like she was nothing to me." Then, he finished off his beer and hit his head on the counter. The next morning, he wouldn't remember a thing.
Keiichi didn't really want to talk about her much because of the pain she caused and how it stirred memories when her name was mentioned. In as much as we wanted to know more about his situation, he was not exactly ready to open up to anyone. Thus, we didn't normally bring her up if we could avoid it.
They met in Keiichi's second year in high school. Somewhere along the way, he fell in love. And then, when they parted ways after graduation, he named her The One That Got Away. It was a funny name, to say the least but its deep undertones speak of bitterness and regret. He never forgot about her, much less moved on. He was stuck in a place in the past that he had never quite gotten over with. He kept her alive in that place, frozen in time, and Keiichi clutched on those memories as if keeping her alive was inevitable. I didn't know why Keiichi chose to break his heart many times over by going to that place over and over again. I often told him how much of a masochist he was but he would brush off my sarcasm instead and try to hide his eyes. I always saw it in his eyes. Simply put, the man was wilting away like a potted plant with no water. It's gotten worse over the years, and he was not getting any better.
So when they met again on the fourteenth of February, he called me that night. I roused from bed, squinted in the semi-darkness and pushed the covers off, the blinking light of the LED clock on my bedside read 2:15AM and I switched the receiver on my left hand while running my fingers through my already disheveled hair. Keiichi sounded disorientated over the phone but I was certain he was not drunk. His voice shook and sounded as if he were about to cry. I jerked completely awake at this point.
"Calm down, K," I told him over the phone. "Where are you right now? I'll pick you up."
"Near a train station the shopping district." I pictured him running a hand through his hair and wiping his damp eyes. "Hurry."
I arrived a few minutes later to find him lying on his back on the wooden bench beside a beaten phone booth. He was staring blankly on the sky, his face completely emotionless. I stepped in closer and found his eyes pitch black. He was very still and his face was chalk white. He just lay there, eyes forward and unblinking as if he saw something he should not have, something otherworldly that drew him a blank face. I spoke his name but he didn't seem to recognize my voice, much less hear me or notice I was there. I reached out to put a hand on his forehead and his skin was ice cold. I began to panic when the hairs on the back of my neck started to prick. I checked his pulse; it seemed normal. His breathing was labored.
What on earth was going on?
I slapped him awake. "K! Can you hear me?"
There was no response. Instead, I carried him to the car and drove him to my apartment. He sort of woke up when I put him on the divan, turned off the AC and set the heater to high gear. I jumped off my skin when he stirred and I quickly rushed to his side. Keiichi wiped the sweat off his forehead and sat upright. His face was still blank but at least he was conscious.
"What happened?" he asked when I stood up to fix us some tea.
"You sort of black out after you called me," I told him, unsure if what just happened wasn't in a dream. "I found you unconscious on the park bench where you called. Then, I brought you here. What the hell happened?"
I poured the tea and sat beside him on the couch. The tea both calmed us down. Then, he started out a long tale of how they met again.
Her name is Satonaka Mayu. In their second year, she was on Class B but they met when their classes both participated in the sports festival and they were on opposing teams. That was probably the same time Keiichi realized he had a crush on the girl. The semester came and went and she was transferred to Class A on their third year. That's when he fell in love.
They were not particularly close. He didn't have the guts to come near. She sat on the back row while he was at the far end of the room. They were seats apart and it was a pain to strain his neck to get a look at her. Sometimes, he caught her watching and when he does, she'd look away that same instant. They talked many times, but there was nothing so special or intimate about their conversations. Maybe she felt the same towards him, but there were countless of boys in the class that she was close with, and he couldn't be sure. All he knew was that he wanted to be with her, he wanted to see her all the time and he wanted to make sure she was safe all the time. He cared about her a lot, and though he couldn't voice out his concerns, everyone who knew him saw it in his eyes. He dreamed about her often, even back then, and he knew, Keiichi was sure that he was in love.
Then, graduation loomed and he realized how close they were to losing what very little they have. Their class was graduating at the top half of their batch and most of them had plans on spending their college in Tokyo. He saw her fill out her forms and even asked her about it. She said her parents had plans to put her in a private school somewhere in Osaka. "But it wouldn't hurt to try Tokyo. Everyone else is going there, even my best friend and it'd be lonely to spend your college days alone at such a strange place," she said.
"I'm sure you'll pass the entrance exam," he said in an attempt to start a conversation. She smiled then, and he remembered how nauseatingly warm the effect of that smile had on him. And he understood why he fell for her to begin with.
He thought about confessing many times but he always ended up telling himself that she was not interested at the very least. The day they last saw each other was filled with bitterness and regret that Keiichi kept in his hands until now. He said to himself that he was worth the pain and the misery. It was a price to pay for being so cowardly.
Five years later, on the fourteenth of February, they met again. He was on his way to work when someone spoke his name. He rode his usual train and nobody he knew took the same train on his way to work. He looked around and there she was, for all she's worth, Mayu standing there, smiling at him. She took the empty space next to him. He sat there frozen and unsure if he was in a dream. It all seemed surreal.
"Osaka was tough," she explained to him. "But somehow, I survived and here I am. I'm looking for a job, you see. I'm moving back to Tokyo soon."
"You've been well," he noted. You look beautiful, was what he meant to say but he was at loss for words.
"And you too," she said. "Look at you. Growing a beard and a bit of a moustache. You look older than your age."
"Is that bad?"
"No, it suits you," she said with a smile. "It makes you look more mature. So, what do you do?"
"I'm a teacher," he replied serenely while holding up his satchel stuffed with a lot of notebooks and reading materials. Keiichi taught part time at a local high school while he finished his MA.
"You know, I always pictured you as an engineer when we were in high school," she told him truthfully. "You looked like it. Plus, you were always good at math. I was never good at math."
"I'm a math teacher."
"I knew it."
Soon, they were off and coincidentally, headed to the same direction. There was nothing much to their little reunion. He was the same old Keiichi with words forever stuck at the back of his throat. When they were about to part ways, Mayu grabbed his arm and made him face her. He blinked carefully and peered down to her eyes where he saw something he didn't five years ago.
"I want to tell you something," she said. Keiichi took a deep breath and waited.
"Remember the day we last saw each other?" she was looking at his eyes, one habit of hers that didn't change even after the years, but one that he has taken a liking of. He was listening. "It was a rainy afternoon just after the graduation ceremony. The clouds hung pretty low, and the air was humid. I remember I could hardly breathe because of the unimaginable thickness of the air. Or maybe it was the fact that I was with you and we were talking, just the two of us, and finally talking about something that was close to intimate. I asked you then if there was something you wanted to tell me before we leave. It was the last time we could probably have seen each other, and the last thing I wanted to carry on a lifetime are words never said and things that remained undone. I waited for you to say anything at all. Then finally, you said no, there was nothing to say, and you walked away. You took your guitar and walked away. The truth is, I was expecting you would tell me you loved me. That you always have loved me. I always saw it in your eyes. The way you looked at me, the way you noticed me. You always looked after me. Did you really think I was unaware of that? I was waiting for you to say something, anything at all, but you retaliated with a cold shoulder and an impression that you didn't particularly care about anyone or anything. I didn't know why I didn't confess to you either. Maybe I was waiting for you to take the first step. Turns out I was wrong. Maybe you were scared too, or maybe you didn't simply feel the same towards me, that I was wrong all along. Over the years, I've always been haunted with wanting to know what could have happened if we got together. I never knew, even now. Somehow I'm afraid to know. I've always regretted that day, but not anymore. We were stuck there, in that place when we were both together, on that humid afternoon when I asked if you wanted to tell me anything and you said no. When we met again this morning, I saw it in your eyes. It was the same I wore when I looked in the mirror: regret. I've always been stuck in that place. Somehow, I don't want to stay there anymore."
Keiichi closed his eyes for a while to let it all sink in. "What do you suppose we do?"
"Just move on, Kei," she said after a moment of silence. "I have."
"Are you saying that I should just forget about you?"
"No, I'm not trying to imply such a thing. I want you to remember me. At the same time, I want you to leave that place in your heart where you got yourself stuck in. Leave that place, and save yourself the pain."
"Have you met someone?"
That's when his tears fell. Keiichi was crying at this point and I had to look away. The teacups were empty and his story was told. I took the cup from his hand, stood up and rinsed them on the sink. I leaned on the counter to face him. He wiped his eyes with his fist and stared at the floor blankly.
"What are you going to do now?" I asked, unsure if it was the right thing to ask.
"I'm going to leave," he said. "I'm going to quit my job, drop the semester and leave. There's nothing else to do."
And that's what he did.
The next morning, I found my bed empty. I pushed myself from the divan, went to the bed where Keiichi was supposed to stay and it was the same as when I woke up this morning from Keiichi's phone call. There was no trace of him ever being in my apartment. I phoned his place but the answering machine was all that greeted me. He dropped off the school first thing in the morning and quit his position. He didn't say why. I checked the university too and learned that Keiichi dropped his entire load for the sem because of health reasons, which he didn't bother to elaborate. Just like that, Keiichi disappeared without a trace.
It was a safe place, where he went. Keiichi was a man without a sense of direction, but he knew where he was going. His bag clung on his shoulder for dear life as he trudged the path where the train tracks were. He was heading south, and he was certain he was headed on the right direction. There was no map, but there was something inside him that said he simply had to keep going. And keep going, he did.
That's when she said his name. "Kei." She was the only person who called him Kei.
He turned to look. She was just inches away. "Mayu."
He took her hand on his and together, they walked the same path where the train tracks led them. "I knew you'd be here," Keiichi said.
"Yeah, somehow I did too. That's why I'm here."
They were back at that place, on their nineteen-year-old selves where things could have happened differently. There was promise of tomorrow, and they held on to that for dear life.
"Are you scared?"
"There's nothing to be afraid of," he said. "No one's going to find us here. We're safe here."
Just then, there was a faint sound of a train far ahead. The wind blew, and they let the world slip away.
Consideration/s: Originally posted on Wattpad 28 December 2011.