From the Collection of Short Stories titled, Love Is All Around (Copyright)
“You’re just a friend.”
The cold statement had been inculcated on his mind the moment he confessed his undying love for her. For the past two years he hounded her like a stray dog longing for a master.
He saw her on the front yard of the house but the moment she saw him, she turned back to the house. That was always her actuation whenever she saw him coming.
The gate was not locked so he entered like he used to. He knocked on the door and as always the phrase ‘come in’ served as his permission to enter.
She was slumped on the long sofa like a limp doll. It seemed all her strength was drained out of her by his mere presence.
“Would you like to see a movie?” he offered, the expensive tickets were on the palm of his hands.
“I don’t feel well,” she lied but her eyes were on the ‘gift” she knew she would get before he left.
“Would you like me to call a doctor,” he asked, his face was filled with caring.
“I think I only need the rest,” she said, play-acting the part while holding on to her forehead as if she had a fever or something. “Would you like something to drink?”
“No, no,” he replied. “You should not burden yourself. I just stopped by to give you these. You can use these anytime you feel like it.”
“You’re too kind, friend.”
Instead of leaving the house happy, her last word dampened his enthusiasm. But, he always leave with his patented parting words.
‘You’re very special to me. Remember that always.”
With neither nod nor verbal assent from her to his pledge, he placed the tickets on the living room coffee table. He simply smiled and bade her goodbye.
– o –
She stood up from the sofa and went to the window. She parted the curtains slowly to see if he was gone. There was nothing she could do but give him the cold treatment. His persistence was getting on her nerves though she had the decency to treat him in a civil manner. What with his gifts, which continued to stack up in her room, still coming, she had no reason to send him crying home.
The international call she received early on was what intrigued her. She pretended to be glad that her former neighbor and former best friend was coming home for the holidays. Not that she was envious that her friend was luckily living in the Land of Milk and Honey but rather irritated that her life would be interrupted by someone she learned to dislike.
Ah, she sighed. If I could give a guy the cold treatment, I could give her the same. Yes, she promised herself.
– o –
He was sipping from a cup of coffee when her friend knocked on the door. The soft taps surely belonged to a woman. Terry stood up leaving him waiting for the visitor to appear.
The gaily feminine laughter was infectious that he smiled, not knowing what was it really about they were laughing at. Probably some girl stuff, especially new gossips from abroad.
“So, this is your boyfriend,” Mildred asked, offering her hand for a handshake. She desisted giving him the cheek-to-cheek greeting she was used to, for fear that Terry might give the innocuous greeting more color. “Glad to meet you. I am Mildred.”
“No,” he stammered, “I am just a friend.”
Terry gave him the cold stare, her face crumpled for a few seconds before reverting back to the false smile she practiced the whole day yesterday.
Mildred was acutely observant and she used her charm to send two different messages with a teasing comment.
“You’re a boy and she is your friend. So, you are her boyfriend.”
Terry was not amused, even though he liked the tone of her friend’s logic. Perhaps, the continuous goading would push Terry to accept him as the real thing.
“We’re just friends, really.” Terry was in no mood to entertain the word play. “No more. No less.”
“So that means I have a chance to snatch him away from you,” Mildred gushed, as if she really meant what she just blurted out.
He looked at her, searching her face for the truth in her acclamation. Then, he glanced at Terry, who thought that the flighty reaction was too much for a woman, even as liberated as Mildred.
After a long minute of gauging one another silently, their conversation revolved on the mundane. No one wanted to go back to more personal matters.
They parted ways before sunset. He walked out the door first and vanished at the first corner. Mildred rode a taxi home. Terry was left alone, totally elated that both what she termed as irritants had left.
– o –
A month quickly passed after their last meeting. Terry was apprehensive that neither of the two ever called her. Not that she cared for them but just curious why both of them took her for granted.
She heard a soft knock on the door. Pushed by some force of excitement, she ran to the living room to see who came to visit her. She was expecting him standing there with a gift in his hand along with his loving smile. She missed the routine of telling him, they were just friends.
“Hi, Terry,” Mildred smiled at her, the rascal behavior was absent. Instead, she looked motherly.
“Oh, hi!” she welcomed, unusually happy that her former friend stood there, “Come in.”
Terry noticed that Mildred walked slowly, as if taking very careful steps to prevent any mishaps.
“It’s been a while,” she said, waiting for Mildred to take a seat. “How you’ve been? I thought you went back to the States.”
“In a week, I guess.”
Terry’s mind kept on guessing why Mildred stayed too long in the country. Perhaps, she became ill.
“He has not visited me, too, for quite some time,” Terry commented, surprised why she brought him up in the conversation.
“He’s been busy,” Mildred said, her face brightened up with the mention of him.
“What? How do you know? Why?”
Terry could not stop herself from asking, how she was too interested of Mildred’s knowledge of his activities.
“He’s clearing his papers for travel to the States.”
“Why?” asked Terry, practically knowing the answer to the question. She knew now why Mildred was so deliberate in her moves.
Mildred’s eyes seemed to glisten when she began to relate how their whirlwind romance started. Like a fairy tale it was. The love at first sight affair.
To Terry, the whole retelling crushed her heart, like it was clutched by a hand of steel and squeezed to bleed. She looked brave not to shed a tear as Mildred took the monologue to happy-ever-after ending.
“I’ll be going now,” Mildred said, after the twenty-minute visit.
“Can I call you cab?” Terry asked sincerely. She looked as if she was doused by cold water.
“Thank you, Terry,” Mildred replied.
She took Terry’s hands and squeezed them. “Thank you, Terry,” she repeated, smiling.
“It’s nothing,” Terry remarked, failing to comprehend her friend’s real meaning. “It’ll take a minute. I’ll call right away.”
Finally, Terry understood her friend’s gratitude as she glanced at her glorious face.
“Lucky‘s waiting at the corner.”
Terry smiled wanly while she saw Mildred out the door.. She felt like losing her consciousness with the stark realities in her midst.
She nervously looked out the window, with the parted curtains, closing her eyes and hoping she was simply in a worse nightmare. But that was just to fool herself not to accept the truth shown in the distance, of the lovely couple walking away from her life.