Author’s note: This is a short fiction about taking chances. Sometimes, we are so afraid of rejections that we never realise the best case scenario far outweighs the worst one.
‘I don’t know, it’s just gone.’
‘What do you mean you don’t know? Wha- What happened?’
He sighed. He had said the same thing twice and he didn’t know how to soften the blow any better. He avoided her eyes. ‘My feelings are gone.’
Lizzy forced herself to look him in the eyes, hopelessly trying to find something – hesitation, guilt, a spark of feeling, anything. She could only find hatred. ‘Why?’ she finally asked.
‘I just don’t love you anymore,’ he said it as a matter of fact. There was no remorse, not even a single hint of longing. Nothing. He gave her that flat sentence, finally ecstatic that he had said the thing he had wanted to say for the past month. Then he walked away.
The fourth Tuesday
‘…And I stayed there, you know. I stood there at the cafeteria, waiting for him to come back, or to give me one last hug or something. Or to say he was sorry. He didn’t even say, “I’m sorry.” He just walked away,’ Lizzy said.
K had another sip of his coffee, not knowing what to say to that. ‘Well, how did you feel after…?’
She laughed. ‘I went home and cried myself to sleep for the next month or so.’
‘Yeah, it was horrible. I had this fantasy where he would come back and realise his mistake and everything would go back to normal. Well, not only he never did, I never knew why he left.’
‘And that was three years ago?’
‘Three years. I don’t know why it haunted me so much. Perhaps because it was my first real puppy love, if you know what I’m saying. Perhaps because I never had any closure – well, have. I don’t know if it was something I did, or something he did. You just don’t date for six months and have the best honeymoon period while suddenly your boyfriend asks for a chat and says his feelings are gone.’ She snapped her fingers. ‘Just like that. Gone.’
K looked at his coffee once again. He definitely didn’t know what to say, as he was not an expert on relationship himself. He didn’t want to start telling her about the cliches. ‘Have you gotten over him?’
‘Bingo. That’s the million-dollar question, right?’ Lizzy crossed her legs, both her hands cupping her latte that had gone cold for long. ‘I think I have. Well, at least I believe I have. I stopped stalking him, like, two years ago, and that’s a good sign. And I feel okay to talk about him without getting too emotionally unstable,’ she paused.
‘But I guess what I really want is closure.’
K smiled, as if trying to understand this creature from the planet Venus. Why girls always make everything too complicated? he thought. He dumped you. Move on. Simple. Of course, he didn’t say it out loud. ‘Well, you know what they say.’
‘What?’ she shot him a look.
‘There are plenty of fishes in the sea.’
Lizzy laughed. Hard. ‘I thought you are going to tell me that he doesn’t deserve me or it’s his loss or ‘everything-happens-for-a-reason’ shit. Can’t believe you go for that.’
K raised his cup, ‘Happy to help.’
Lizzy wiped a tear on her right eye. ‘Okay, okay, you win. Anyways, I have to run now. Same time next week?’
‘Same time next week,’ he said.
The seventh Tuesday
‘Sorry I’m late,’ Lizzy sat down and untied her scarf. ‘It’s really cold and windy and this weather is making me nuts. How have you been?’
K’s eyes lightened. ‘Not too bad, yourself?’ He raised his right hand to notify the waiter.
‘Great. I’ve been great. I got the job!’
‘What can I get for you today?’ the waiter asked.
‘Hold on,’ he faced the waiter. ‘Can we get a latte and cappuccino with two sugars? And a slice of flourless orange-almond cake please.’
The waiter smiled. ‘The usual?’
‘Yeah,’ K smiled back. ‘The usual.’
‘Won’t be a second,’ he walked away.
K turned to Lizzy. ‘You were saying? You got the gig? Congrats!’
Lizzy broke into a biggest grin. ‘I know, right! It was down to four people and guess what? I got the job. Notified via Twitter. Crazy.’
‘What’s the job?’
‘Whoops, we promised. Zip,’ she took her black coat off, revealing a black and white sweater underneath. K stopped breathing for a good second.
‘It’s just weird that I know about your love affair and not your job,’ he joked.
‘Not a problem for me. Oh, thank you,’ she said to the waiter who brought her latte and cake. ‘So what’s been happening in your life?’
‘I start going back to the gym,’ he said nonchalantly. Lizzy almost choked her coffee.
‘You’re hitting the gym again? Don’t tell me there’s a girl.’
‘No specifics, remember? But no, there’s no girl. I just feel unhealthy with all these coffee intakes.’ Half a lie, he thought.
‘Well, if this makes you feel better, I used to be a member of my high school’s badminton team. Didn’t stick, though. I hope walking is considered as a sport,’ she took another sip of her coffee.
K reached for his cappuccino too. ‘I doubt it.’
‘By the way, I’ve been reading this series,’ she said as if she didn’t hear him. ‘And I love it. The Maze Runner. Have you heard of it?’
He rolled his eyes, ‘You know I don’t read, right?’
‘Yes, but, hear me out. It’s uh-mah-zing. It’s like The Hunger Games, but manly. Not a lot of hormonal stuff. Hunger Games has a girl as a hero and written by a woman, right? Well, Maze Runner has a guy as a hero and written by a man. It’s awesome.’
‘Since when do you like manly stuff? Don’t you always cry during a Disney movie?’ he asked.
Lizzy widened her eyes as if surprised, but went back to her normal expression again, ‘Oh, I forgot I told you that. But this is really awesome. Like, you don’t even know what’s happening, really, until you reach book three. And even when you’ve finished the series, you don’t even know everything! There are a lot of loose ends, and we just have to guess what’s been happening. I love it.’
‘Yes, you do know that I don’t read books, right?’
Lizzy took a bite of her flourless orange cake. ‘Go watch the movie. It’s coming out.’
Next Tuesday? Same time? he thought. But he didn’t say it. ‘Perhaps I should.’
‘Yes, you should. Okay, a minute of silence please. I really need to finish these readings before class.’
She took out her subject reader and K took out his laptop. They had this arrangement of having coffee every Tuesday at the same time, same place. They would talk a bit, then she would carry on to do her studies while he worked on his laptop. The waiters recognised them as the usuals – weird, but heartwarming.
Lizzy was obsessed with Elizabeth Bennett from The Pride and Prejudice for as long as she could remember. She just loved the love story with Mr. Darcy. That was why every time someone asked her name, she would say, ‘Lizzy.’ She was currently doing her master’s degree part time. She had this medium-length black hair, always braided. She would love to have them dyed, only her conservative parents would never let her see the end of it.
K worked. He had glasses – not like weird Harry Potter style, but the cool glasses with thick black frames. He always gelled his hair, and always looked presentable. He was not the kind of guy who would go out with slippers and shorts. And he always stole a look or two to Lizzy when she wasn’t watching. Oh, boy.
‘How’s your work?’ Lizzy asked, taking another bite of his cake.
K, who was really daydreaming, snapped back to the reality and said, ‘It’s okay. Deadline’s on Friday, but I think I can manage. How’s your uni?’
‘I really hate my tutor,’ she said. ‘How am I supposed to write a 2000-word essay about something so generic?’
‘Like the effectiveness of factual accuracy for readers. Don’t even ask me about it.’
‘What about it?’
‘It’s stupid. It’s common sense. It’s not even something you have a strong opinion about,’ she sighed, and gulped the remaining of her latte. ‘You sure you don’t want to try the cake? It’s so good.’
‘Nah, I’m okay.’ Truth was, he was dying to try. ‘I’m having dinner soon anyway.’
‘Right.’ Lizzy took the last bite of her cake. ‘Whose turn is it today?’
‘Mine,’ he said, reaching to his pocket.
‘Wait, didn’t you pay last week?’ she looked confused.
‘Nah, that’s fine,’ he stood up and walked to the cashier before she could say anything.
‘You shouldn’t do that,’ Lizzy said when he got back.
‘Well, thank you,’ she smiled. ‘Same time next week?’
K smiled too. ‘Same time next week.’
The tenth Tuesday
‘…And they are together now! I can’t believe it. Seriously, it’s been two months since she broke up with her ex, and between these two months there was another guy that she’s been seeing on and off, who introduced her to her now boyfriend. I really can’t believe it,’ Lizzy said while sipping her coffee.
K smiled. Not because of what she said, but because Lizzy was simply radiant when she told him a story. ‘Well, it’s her choice.’
‘Yeah, I know. I had this bet with my friend, you know. Like, I bet that she would break up with her then boyfriend in a year. My friend said I should put more faith in her. And then she broke up,’ she took a bite of a cake.
‘Probably she is just that type,’ K said.
‘What type?’ Lizzy said with her mouth full.
‘The type that couldn’t be alone.’
‘She is,’ she sighed. ‘I know it’s none of my business, but in my small, uneventful life, it’s bizarre.’
K just laughed. He really didn’t know what to say to that.
‘So tell me about your life,’ she said suddenly.
‘I’ve always been the one who talks. Come on, tell me,’ she glanced to the ceiling, as if thinking. ‘Tell me something you never tell anyone before.’
K thought about it. Truth was, there were a million things he had never said to anyone. But nothing came to mind at that specific moment.
He looked at her, and blurted out, ‘I have never kissed a girl.’ He regretted saying that as soon as the words escaped his lips.
‘You’ve never kissed a girl?’
‘Let’s not talk about it.’
‘I thought you’ve dated before?’
‘I did. She just seemed never wanted to be kissed so I never made a move. She dropped all these vague hints and cues – happy and in love in one day and irritated for good at me the next. I could never figure out what she really wanted,’ K looked at his coffee and swallowed two big gulps. It burned. His coffee was still too hot.
Lizzy was silent for a while. ‘If this can make you feel better, I think every girl secretly wants to be kissed when they are dating.’
‘Really? Even when they say they don’t?’
‘Especially when they say they don’t,’ Lizzy took another bite.
‘And in case you’re wondering, first kiss is a big deal.’
K swallowed another big gulp. ‘How big?’
‘Big. Well, at least for me,’ she smiled. ‘And I think guys are such so bad with picking hints. Except the bad boys.’
‘True story. Mine, my friends’, my colleagues’, the girl sitting across the table from us,’ she leaned in. ‘The bad boys are experts and they are not afraid of rejections. Perhaps that’s why they get the girl all the time. Nice guys sit back and wait until he is perfectly sure that the girl wants him. Thing is he would never be sure so he never acts. So he misses the boat entirely.’
K was silent, pondering on the words. Is she hinting something? he thought. ‘That’s a lot to process,’ he finally said.
‘Let me tell you another secret when it comes to girls,’ Lizzy said.
K didn’t know where she was going with this. He thought she just wanted to make him feel better about having never kissed a girl before. ‘What is it?’ he asked.
‘We girls never know what we want. We only think we know. It’s an impossible game to play,’ she said.
K leaned back on his chair and thought hard about it. But all he wanted to do was reach across the table and kiss her. Not a good timing for daydreaming.
The eleventh Tuesday
Lizzy didn’t come today. K paid for his coffee and walked out of the cafe, thinking of grabbing Chinese takeaway for dinner. All the way his mind was full of her. Did I do something wrong last week? He didn’t think so. Their coffee time went as per usual, Lizzy talking about the latest book or movie she loved and he talked about nothing in general. Then there was that slightly awkward talk about kissing.
K sighed. Why can’t I just ask her for a real date?
He got into his car and started the engine, waiting for it to warm up. He thought about the first time he met her – they were sitting down on this communal table and she had dropped her pouch. Lizzy didn’t realise it, and K picked it up from the floor. ‘You dropped this,’ he said.
Suprised, Lizzy said, ‘Oh my, I didn’t even know it had fallen! Thanks.’
Nothing happened. But a week after he saw her again. Same time, same place. On the corner of her eyes, he realised that she remembered him too. Then she smiled. ‘I think I remember you,’ she said.
‘Hi again,’ he said, ordering his coffee.
‘Do you always come here at this time?’ she asked.
‘Most of the time, yes.’
‘Are you a student?’
‘It’s office hour.’
K swallowed his saliva slowly. ‘I- uh, the company I work for gives me flexibility in terms of working remotely.’
‘Oh,’ then she was back to doing whatever she was doing.
After a while, she paid for her coffee and started packing her bags, and said, ‘Well, I’ll see you same time next week then.’ Smiling, she head for the door.
And that was their first Tuesday.
K looked at the cafe once again, still not finding any sign of her. He drove away.
He finally realised that his heart was screwed for good.
The twelfth Tuesday
‘I didn’t think you’d come today,’ K said. His heart was beating furiously and he had trouble sleeping – mostly due to analysing the situation over and over again. He somewhat calmed down after seeing Lizzy walking through that door.
‘I’m so, so, so sorry,’ she rushed to him and sat down. ‘I had a paper due last week. I couldn’t finish it in time. Were you waiting for me?’
Were I waiting for you? Of course I were. ‘Nah, it’s not a big deal.’
Lizzy had relief written all over her face. ‘That’s good. The usual?’
They were silent for a while after ordering, K with his jumbled thoughts and Lizzy with her half guilt. Well, she didn’t feel that guilty, but she didn’t feel good either.
‘So… Any news?’ she started.
‘Nothing much. Work’s been the same. It’s the holiday season soon, so things start to slow down a bit,’ he said.
‘Tell me about it. I just finished my final paper for the semester. That felt good,’ she sipped her latte.
‘No readings to do today?’
‘Nah, I’m free until next semester.’
‘So what’s your plan for the holidays?’
‘Relax. Work. Relax. I’ve been busy for so long and I really want some time off. You?’
‘I don’t know yet.’
They sipped their coffee in silence again.
‘You’re still mad at me, aren’t you?’ Lizzy asked.
K paused. He wasn’t mad at her. He was mad at himself. ‘No, I’m not.’
‘Yes, you are.’
‘Admit it. I’m sorry, really. I would have told you if I have your number, but–’
‘Why don’t you give me yours?’
‘Your number. Why don’t you give me?’ K felt as if his head was going to explode.
‘Well, we had a de–’
‘We’ve been talking for months. Don’t you consider me as a friend?’
Lizzy was taken aback. She never saw him emotional, and suddenly she witnessed his emotional outburst. ‘Of course you’re my friend, but–’
‘But what?’ K shot her a look. Lizzy knew that look. She knew those eyes. She had them years ago.
‘I just didn’t think…’ she didn’t know what to say.
He drank his coffee. ‘Forget it.’
K couldn’t take it anymore. He needed fresh air. ‘I have to go.’
‘See you around.’
He paid for the coffee, took his bag and left.
Lizzy was still there, stunned. She didn’t know what to think, moreover what to do. Did he just stormed out of the cafe? Did he just leave me because I couldn’t come to our unscheduled meeting last week?
The thought made Lizzy furious.
Who does he think he is? I’m not under any obligation to meet him. She scowled. I don’t even know his name. And what? He said, ‘See you around’? That’s fine, I wouldn’t need to see him anymore.
Lizzy grabbed her bag and walked home. She didn’t know what to feel. She was sad, no, she was angry. She was angry with this guy who had no name and left her alone. The arrangement to have no specifics was to guard them from being hurt in the first place. Now he violated all the rules they had stood for.
He was hurt before, she thought. But that doesn’t mean he can do that to me. Lizzy walked passed a park and decided to sit down. Controlling her heart rate, she chose not to think of anything for a while.
She calmed down somewhat, and she could feel her anger fleeting by. But she suddenly felt it. A jab on her heart.
Shit, she thought.
She finally realised that she liked him too. A lot.
The thirteenth Tuesday
No one went to the cafe today. Not K, not Lizzy. Both were wondering, while busying themselves with work, if whether the other came to the cafe only to find no one was there. Both wished they had each other’s number.
The fourteenth Tuesday
K couldn’t sleep last night for the umpteenth time in a row. He was still thinking of her.
He thought of whether he would go to the cafe today. He missed her. After all was said and done, he felt empty. He was angry at himself, of course. Lizzy didn’t do anything wrong. He just had this expectation, and with every Tuesday, his expectation grew a bit more. And he was mad at himself for raising those expectations. Now, he was heartbroken.
He never knew if Lizzy liked her. He didn’t think she did, but she kept on coming Tuesday after Tuesday.
If only I have the guts to ask her for a real date, he thought.
K wished he could turn back the time.
So he went to the cafe.
He sat down at his usual seat on the communal table, and ordered a latte. The waiter looked surprised, ‘No cappuccino today?’
‘No, a latte please.’
He sat. And he waited. His coffee was three quarter gone.
K looked at the door, then at his coffee, and took a sip. Then he looked back at the door, and his coffee, and took a sip. He waited.
She wouldn’t come.
He had a sad smile, as if reminiscing the moments they had in that coffee shop. He stood up and reached the cashier, when suddenly the cafe door opened harshly.
His heart skipped a beat, but it wasn’t Lizzy. Just a random man.
K breathed heavily.
He walked towards the door, put his hand on the handle three seconds too long, and opened it.
And there she was.
‘Why-don’t-you-ever-ask-me-out?’ short of breath, Lizzy tried to calm her heart rate.
‘It’s been months. Months! And all you ever do is sitting in front of me while doing your work. You don’t even talk about you that much.’
K was stunned. He had been hoping to see Lizzy, but he never thought of what she would say.
Lizzy continued. ‘I was talking about this book and that movie and that that movie of this book is coming out and you never once said anything that resembles asking me out. Not once. And when I finally resolved for us to being just friends you suddenly start acting like a jerk. And you left me. Alone.’ She took another deep breath.
‘What do you want?’ she asked finally.
K opened his mouth, but there was no sound. He clearly was the dumbest when it came to relationship, and he had no training in this. He looked at her but somehow couldn’t process her words quick enough to give an answer. He knew he had to say something, perhaps something intelligent or romantic to not lose her a second time. But when he finally said something, all he could say was, ‘You’re beautiful.’
Lizzy was half-amused. ‘Excuse me?’
K regained his composure. ‘I’m sorry, that’s not the answer. But that’s all I could think of.’
Lizzy looked at him in half-belief. Did he just say that? Seriously?
There was a minute of awkward silence, and then she started laughing.
And after a while, he started laughing too.
They were laughing so hard that people started to stare at them. They had blocked the only access in and out of the cafe, so they decided to take a walk, still laughing, still not saying anything.
‘So…’ Lizzy trailed on.
‘So… Let’s make a new deal,’ K said. This time, he thought, I would really ask her.
Lizzy bit her lower lip playfully. ‘What kind of deal?’
‘My name is Kelvin. I’m a 27-year-old landscape architect who would love to ask you for a real date starting now. You can choose the movie and the dinner place and even the desserts place. I’ll send you home after. And I would really, really love to ask for your number.’ And he waited for an answer that seemed like forever.
She blushed slightly, then looked at his eyes to find a sign, something, anything. And she found it. The spark.
‘My name is Lisa. I thought you’d never ask.’
Photo by Linh Nguyen