Fallout

It was one of those Saturdays that he was thankful for, precisely because three hours would be cut off from his hospital duties: as there was a scheduled review, they would be free to listen to their learned professor and even have some time to dine outside, no matter what and where their responsibilities were. It was one of the few times where most of them could catch up with one another after being separated by hellish work. Sal looked for a seat at the back of the room: he and his friends often sat together at the back during their first three years; it had been no different during those review times. As he brought his portable Wi-Fi with him, he booted up his laptop and logged onto his Facebook account. Although he wasn't much fond of Facebook (his sister created his account for him on account of his Luddism), he found it useful for school updates and organizing meet-ups: there have been many successful excursions among his friends due to the power of Facebook. At times, he could offer his own thoughts regarding pressing matters, and that was good enough.

Facebook had its drawbacks, however. There were times when people in the past that he wanted forgotten updated. One of those times arrived at that moment: a common friend uploaded one of her pictures. Despite being cuckolded by her ideals, he could not help but look at her most recent pictures. He watched each one for more than a few seconds, digesting the image of each picture until he had gone through all of them. He then raised his head, and stared into space with a quizzical look on his face. Had one not known what he had been looking at, one would have thought that he was answering an exam on his laptop, or perhaps was solving a challenging problem.

It was at this time that his friend, June, had entered the room. He quietly watched the person behind the computer raise his head, seemingly in wonder, and went toward him. He only found out what the person was wondering about when he saw her picture on his laptop. It led him to say, 'But I thought you were over her, Sal.'

Sal promptly replied: 'I guess I must be – right about now.'

'How is that?'

'Because it's just been a few minutes ago that I asked myself how I came to like her so much in the first place.'

'So that was why you were looking like a moron, staring into space as if it offered you answers. But I'd say that she's pretty cute.'

'I know that!' Sal interjected, 'But I think I was attracted to her more because of her personality than her looks. She looked good, of course, but I was more attracted to the fact that she was laconic, intelligent, but also a gamer. She may not have been the prettiest, but she sure had most of the traits I have looked for in a lady.'

'You mean it wasn't just about her looks?'

'That was a big part of it, but it wasn't just about that. I was attracted at how she had depth just like a spectre has depth. Despite the fact that she hid in the shadows, I just knew there was more to her than what people saw, and I was slowly attracted until I realized I had fallen for her.'

'Yet you weren't able to catch her ghost.'

'I ended up failing pretty hard, yes. I know that I was to blame for the most part, but honestly, I also hoped that if she didn't like me in the first place, she should have told me right away. I can't read minds, after all. I even have a hard time deciphering subtle barbs.'

'So you ended up being a stalker.'

'I disagree with that. I'm sure others would say that that was so, but I really didn't have anything else to do, you know. How else could you catch a spectre? The only time she'd stick around was when there were requirements to fulfill, but other than that she was away from the college when there were no classes. I couldn't invite her outside.'

'By that alone you should have known that she probably didn't like you already. I already told you that before.'

'I guess,' Sal paused for a while before continuing, 'that I believed in fairy tales, and I still have faith in the stuff of fantasy – that maybe if you liked someone hard and long enough, she'd like you back.'

'Not only are you an idiot, you're also trapped in the past!' June exclaimed, then laughed derisively. 'Seriously, though, you're an anachronism – an anomaly. You still believe that virtue and honor are paramount in this time and age?'

'I really didn't want to undermine my very first attempt at love by being haphazard at it. I wanted to give everything I could for as long as I can. I thought that that way, I wouldn't have any regrets. I mean, I may have started late, but I didn't want to start poorly. It wasn't about virtue or honor per se – I just wanted to try my best.'

'You don't have to worry about that. I was actually surprised that you could be as thorough and consistent as you were with her right until you finally understood that she had rejected you. Even her declination of your tea offering should have been enough for you. You should have stopped then.'

'I didn't feel it was right back then. It just seemed to me as giving up prematurely. I even watched her report, just to cheer her on and only realizing later on that it was actually creepy.'

June laughed. 'You should have thought about it: a guy who is a level or so older than you enters your room while you are reporting while he sits as the back and then disappears after your report. That was creepy.'

Sal smacked his head. 'I want to slam my head on the chair right now. That was really scary. Well, it doesn't really matter now. It's long been over. I've done a lot of rather sensible stuff as well, though. But what else was I to do?'

'Absolutely nothing. She just didn't like you – and she probably never will.'

'That was actually fine with me, you know. All I had really wanted was for her to tell me directly that she didn't like me. I mean, I did that to one girl I also knew back then, and she thanked me for being honest.'

'Maybe she was just too nice to do that, I guess?'

'I think that not telling me straight was cruel of her.'

'But you have to put yourself in her shoes, Sal. I think she has problems telling it straight to people. Most people aren't as frank or tactless as you. She's afraid of a lot of things but doesn't want to hurt people, you included.'

'You know that I've liked her for so long to bear any ill will toward her. I guess deep inside I just wished to be rejected properly.'

'She was probably afraid of you, too.'

'You know, she could have told me so many things that would have made me stop. She could say, "Please stop, you're creepy," or maybe, "Please, I don't like you and I never will," or even maybe, more attuned to her personality, "I'm sorry; I don't like you that way." Or perhaps maybe she did, I just didn't understand it back at the time she said it.'

'Do you regret anything?'

'I enjoyed liking her, and was glad to have taken risks for the first time in my entire life. I didn't enjoy being ignored, and I certainly didn't enjoy her innumerable silent rejections, but I'm glad to have done things I'd never have done if not for love.'

'Wherever You Will Go?'

Sal smiled. 'That was the first time in my entire life that I sang an entire song in public – and then dedicate it obliquely to her.'

'Yeah, your eyes were half-closed most of the time whilst you were singing that song that it seemed as if you were doing something questionable.'

'Lay off me. You know that was my first time to have done anything as blatantly stupid as that.'

'Yeah,' June barely snorted the word out before laughing. He then continued, 'Your heart was leaping out of your chest that time!'

'My heart was about to burst, you know! My hunchback should tell you about my confidence.'

'You even drank some medicine back then. What was it again?'

'Propanolol.'

June laughed heartily. 'To lower your blood pressure?'

'Actually, yes, and also to treat generalized anxiety disorder. I looked it up.'

'You were that shaken, eh?'

Sal turned red. 'I don't know how you could both be proud and ashamed of something at the same time, but I was with that performance. I'm proud that I did decently at it, but I'm ashamed at the events leading to it – as well as with that damned face of mine.'

'You were a nervous wreck. For pulling something decent like that, you have my praise. Your voice actually didn't tremble. It was bass all the way, but it was a smooth attempt. Did you ever get anything from her? For everything that you did?''

'Thoughtful, beautiful art.'

'And tiny, infinitesimal rejections that slowly added up.'

'I have no regrets, frankly. I mean, she just didn't like me. I'll repeat that a thousand times to convince myself over and over again, because it's true and I don't want to go back.'

'You should make a shirt that says, "I loved my best but all I got was this lousy painting!"'

'But it wasn't lousy, June! It was very well-done!'

'There will be someone else, eventually. That someone will understand you in spite of your weirdness.'

Sal once again looked at the cascade of pictures of her and her friends. He stared hard for about a minute, and looked at the pictures from different angles. 'I really think I'm over her, because right now I'm asking myself why I've liked a girl like her for so long.'

'She does look a bit tired,' June replied. 'But you didn't like her just because of how she looked, right?'

'No. Like I said, I liked her more because of what she hid beneath. And it's probably gotten to her, I guess. I was also pretty tired back then. There were tons of exams in a week, and all that jazz.'

'Well, it's gotten to all of us. But I really don't think you looked tired back then. I mean, even when we had tons of exams you'd exhort us to play with you. You were such an ass – you also had time to play computer games, actually not go to classes at times, and still do well enough.'

'I passed, anyway. We all passed – even with my bad influences.'

'She'd probably feel lucky if she ended up with you.'

'Well, she doesn't like me. That's that.'

'She'd be stuck with someone weird whose tastes with most things are so idiosyncratic and so in contrast with most men, but she'd be stuck with someone who actually cares for her. If people actually go so far as to call you gay because you care for your guy friends like me, I can only imagine how much love you'd pour into an actual girlfriend of yours. God, you give your close friends birthday cakes! That's something girls do!'

'I just wish she knew that it would have been an honor to have my heart broken by her.'

'Where did you steal that line?'

'Dead stars,' answered Sal.

Sal didn't bother to listen to June after that statement. Their class president then drowned their room with his incongruously large voice, and Sal wondered how such a small body could hide such a sonic boom. His gaze once again wandered to his laptop.

'I guess I will never know why,' he muttered to himself as he shut down his computer.