I've always believed that I was brave. Every gash, harm or pain that went my way ever since I was a little kid up until my age today, I've endured them all and never shed a tear.
But standing here inside the church, donned in what could be the most beautiful formal evening gown I've worn in my entire life, I couldn't help but chuck out tears. I know I promised not to—and I promised him—yet with the situation I was in at the moment, crying is just inevitable.
It wasn't seeing him in a handsome tuxedo, standing at the altar, smiling like an idiot as he waited for his wife-to-be-any-second-from-now to get closer to him that crushed my heart to a million fragments. The ache was more of coming from the fact that I didn't get to tell him how I really feel...how I wasted hundreds of chances in a year to say to him those three magic words.
I love him...my best friend. And he's getting married. To someone else.
He suddenly gazed at me, his smile instantly petering out before faintly shaking his head. I could perfectly deduce that his gesture meant to say, "don't cry." I mouthed, "okay," but of course that was a huge lie. There was no way I could fetter these tears from falling out. Even if I escape from the depressing spectacle, wherever I go I will always bring the ache with me, that painful regret that I could have had him, that his happiness could have been with me…and mine with him.
Funny how I was courageous enough to face life battles not anyone could, yet confessing my feelings for him, it was a lot more difficult than all those obstacles I've defeated combined. And right now, as I looked at him, with his smile getting wider…happier, while the stunning bride inched her way nearer to the altar, the agony brewing inside my chest was becoming more unbearable, proving that I may not be that brave as what I have come to believe after all.
I bowed my head when the groom and bride finally united. I knew I missed the chance of witnessing one of those spectacular events in a wedding ceremony where the father hands his daughter over to her future husband. But I was happy that I didn't actually see that. And surely, I wouldn't regret that.
When the wedding was finished, all the guests went to the pavilion located just a few walks away from the church. The place was decorated majestically, matched with glaring lights and cheerful music. The charm it exuded did its work, making everyone but me dancing, drinking and singing in merry celebration.
With my butt planted on the seat and the corners of my eyes and mouth pulled down by gravity, I was the epitome of dejection. And believe me, I didn't want to. The last thing I needed to be doing at a place and occasion like this was to sulk.
But I couldn't help it. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't thwart these feelings of misery from growing, cascading through, and dominating me. My heart is clearly and immeasurably broken, no amount of convincing or trickery that "everything's going to be okay" could make the agony any less painful. Especially in looking at him and her, in the middle of the dance floor, underneath the shimmering spotlight, dancing so sweetly together. If I hadn't been in love with him, I was damn sure I'd be undulating with giddiness, from the top of my head down to the tips of my every single toe. Just like how I'd felt whenever I'd watch all those sappy, romantic movies.
Then again, no doubt I was in love with him. And the only reaction that would come out of me were more tears… and the small fragments of my broken heart blasting to even smaller pieces.
I wiped the umpteenth batch of tears that had poured out of my eyes, and though I tried to do it inconspicuously, I was still caught in the act of my despair.
Now that wouldn't be so bad. But it was. Because the one who caught me was none other than James Harper…my enemy. Make that my enemy who was clever enough to figure out that I wasn't exactly weeping in sheer joy for the newlyweds.
"That's an awful lot of tears coming from someone who's happy that her friend has just gotten married," he said, a bottle of beer in one hand. Then he dared pull a chair closer to mine and sat on it.
Naturally, I shot him with incredulous eyes, before rolling them—an act I find myself always doing whenever he's near enough to make my blood boil with anger.
Okay, so to tell the truth, this is a one-sided hate. Maybe he doesn't really hate me at all, but I don't care. I hate him with all the guts inside of me. Never mind that he's oozing with striking looks and charisma, but he's annoying, he's arrogant, he thinks he is God's gift to women, and most of all, he stood me up when my best friend arranged for us to go on a blind date a year ago. Which he, when I finally met him the following week at a surprise birthday party held for me, had so stanchly insisted that he was sick at that time. The nerve of him to even ask me out on another date right after he said sorry—a sorry that for his information I haven't yet acknowledged up until today. What, did I look that desperate to him I'd jump straight away into his offer? Needless to say, I said no.
Ever since, he had always bugged me, texting me of nonsense…even calling me in the middle of the night. Of course, I never answered any of those calls; I wasn't that stupid. Still, I ended up with the hideous bags under my eyes and countless nights of short of sleep.
But what really took the cake? He had, if not always, mostly managed to burst out of nowhere whenever I was out alone with my best friend. If that's not hateful enough, then I don't know what it is.
"I am overwhelmed with joy!" I shot back at him, which was of course a big, fat lie. Which I desperately hope he wouldn't notice. "So what?"
"Really…" His tone was challenging, and from that I sensed he knew I was lying. How on Earth could he see right through me?
Nonetheless, I carried on with my act. Straightening up, I answered, "Yes."
"So if you're overwhelmed with joy," James placed his beer on the nearby table, stood up, and then offered me a hand, "you wouldn't mind if you dance, right?"
Astounded and feeling put on the spot, I sat on my chair stock-still, eyes fixated on his hand dangling steadily in front of me.
But before I could further give in to losing my good sense of judgment, I shook my head. "I don't mind dancing. What I do mind is doing it with you."
I made sure to emphasize the last word. There was no way in this time and place I'd be dancing with him. Certainly not when the music that was playing on the background was Eric Benet's The Last Time.
A flicker of light passed through his face and at that moment, I think I may have detected how he looked hurt.
Then again I could be wrong.
"Even if I promise you I'll stop bugging you after we dance?" he proposed, every word uttered out was dripping in solemnity.
It certainly surprised and bewildered me to witness him in such character. He was so serious. Yet gentle at the same time. This was way far different from the annoying prick that I was used to seeing. And because this side of him was indisputably foreign to me I wasn't sure how to tackle it. I then forced to divert my attention to his deal, which was, in all honesty, absolutely enticing.
So, I did the one thing I never thought I would do. I trusted him.
Gulping the lump in my throat, I placed my hand on his', scooped myself up and walked with him to the dance floor. Seeing that I was hesitant to put my arms on his shoulders, he did it for me. Carefully. And then after that, he slid his hands onto my waist, the deed sending tingles all over my body. I just wasn't aware if that was because I was merely ticklish on that part, or it was for another reason.
Not wanting to entertain the cause for the sensation any longer, I turned to his face, specifically to his eyes…and it was the biggest mistake I've ever done. The way he showered me with his enthralled stare, it got me in an extremely awkward state that I quickly deflected my sight away from him. But of all the prospects my stupid eyes would settle onto, it was to my best friend and his wife. The way they gazed, smiled and held on to each other, they seemed perfect…whole. And I couldn't help but get jealous of that.
What it would be like to be in his arms, and then look at me as if I was the only thing that mattered? What it would feel like to be the only person who he loved and cared for the most?
Just what exactly would it be like to be his wife?
The questions piling up in my head was abruptly put to a stop when James gently clamped my chin with his fingers. He directed me back to his gaze and, needless to say, the awkwardness returned. His stare—that mesmerized and pleading stare—was still there. If anything, it looked even more intense…overpowering, that even if I had the urge to look away it wasn't strong enough to make me do so. That stare of his', it was damn holding.
Then he opened his mouth, slipping out words I never expected he'd say to me. "What would I give to have you look at me the way you look at him."
Immediately, I felt the sense of yearning in his voice. And again, it surprised and bewildered me—the nostalgia…the gravity of his words. Is he saying what I think he is trying to say? That he's…he's…
"I'm in love with you, Amy…ever since the first time I saw you. I…I wasn't lying when I said I was sick that's why I didn't show up on the blind date." He sighed deeply, looking at the ground for a moment. "But I guess, that's just too hard for you to believe, right?" He bit his lower lip, stalling whatever else he had to say for a few seconds. "I know you're in love with him, your best friend. It's so obvious. But if you allow me, I'll make sure that every single minute you dreamed you could have with him you'll find in me…and so much more."
It was difficult to digest what James was saying at that point, what with my head still reeling in the thought that he's in love with me. It was downright impossible. The ridiculousness is at the supreme echelon!
Or maybe not entirely.
So all those times he bugged me, were they all, in truth, his failed attempts to acquire my attention? Now that I painstakingly think of it more, I realized how sweet those attempts had really been. He was never loud with his feelings for me to begin with. Maybe he had known from the start that I was in love with my best friend, and he respected that. He knew where he stood and he tried to keep his place. And now that my best friend has finally married, an apparent indication that I will never have that much-longed dream to be with him turn into reality, James finally seized this chance.
That fact I realized, where he waited for this opportunity to come, was just thoroughly…endearing.
"I completely understand that you don't want to," he suddenly said, his voice seemingly laced with hurt it almost choked him. "And as promised, I'll never bug you again. Thank you for this dance."
He made an effort to smile gratifyingly at me, which turned out to be just a small twitch of his lips. And I bet that was even forced. Then he motioned to leave. But leaving was proven to be a fruitless endeavor because I kept my arms securely placed on his shoulders—an obvious hint that I didn't want him to go.
Naturally, he looked at me puzzlingly. But he neither moved nor said anything. He only threw me a questioning stare.
"Honestly," I began, "I never expected any of what you just said… But…but something about this…the two of us this close…is right."
James's once-puzzled features slowly receded, shifting into one that etched of pleasure, realizing that where I was trying to get at was so far going by to his liking.
"And you've bugged me for almost a year, James," I added. "As much as I hate to admit this, I kind of can't imagine a day without you doing it."
I felt his hold on my waist grew taut. His smile as well had become wider and, strangely, a bit naughtier.
"So how about I finally take you to that date I've asked you almost a year ago?" he put forward, and my eyes instantly widened in disbelief at that.
"What, like right now?" I asked.
"But we're in a wedding," I pointed out. "Of my best friend. Who let me remind you is your friend, too."
I narrowed my eyes at him in suspicion.
"What?" James began, matter-of-factly. "Can I help it if I'm jealous of him? I mean even if he's already married, he's obviously still my rival. Of course, I'd whip every chance I can to take you away from him."
I rolled my eyes. "I just stopped you from leaving, told you that 'us' seemed right, practically had allowed you to keep on bugging me, and you still think he's a rival?"
"Maybe if you add a kiss on the list, I'd be fine with staying here."
I snorted at his insinuation before removing my arms from his shoulders and crossing them over my chest. With a faint glare in my eyes I told him, "Oh, don't push your luck. You are not getting first base with me until we go on a date."
"So how about we go on a date now?"
"Okay," I answered right away, not realizing his attempt at trickery. But when I was able to analyze more what he just said, I quickly declined his proposal. "No! No, we can't! We're in a wedding party! Of my best friend!"
I narrowed my eyes at him.
"What, I can't help it if I'm jealous of him," he said. "I mean even if he's already married, he's obviously still my rival. Of course, I'd whip every chance I can to take you away from him."
I rolled my eyes. "I just stopped you from leaving, told you that 'us'—"
Wait a minute, I just said that!
Then James laughed, and it was clear to me that he was fooling me.
But devoid of the tiniest speck of desire to show him that I find his stunt to be one bit funny, I threw him the vilest glare I could muster. No, I didn't walk away. I stayed there, rigid, inside his arms.
That's when I also realized that we have stopped dancing, but we may have had for the past couple of minutes.
James's laugh weakened to a simple smile. "Well, you did allow me to bug you, you know…"
I huffed grouchily at his lame excuse.
"I'm sorry," he finally said, softly. Coupled with that enthralled stare and my insides instantly melted.
He must have also sensed that my rigidity had deteriorated for he drew my arms back to his shoulders again. Then together, we resumed our slow dance. But not long after, he wrapped me in his embrace, gently shoving my head to his chest. And although I couldn't see his face at that moment, I knew from his tone, it was damn trickling with seriousness.
"Maybe in another life your best friend will love you back, Amy. But right here, right now, it's my turn. And I promise you, I will love you with every beat of my heart."