Of Friends…and Lovers
They've always had a certain distance between them. It wasn't just because of the differences in personality or in interests. It was something much deeper than that. There was an awkwardness that always lingered between them and they never knew why. Perhaps it's because of secrets they withheld, the silence that they established between them. For the entire eight years that they've been friends, all questions remained unanswered and words remained unspoken.
"Did I wake you up?"
"No. I wasn't asleep. Is there something wrong?"
"No, I just…I can't sleep…"
"Oh. Um...is there anything I can do to help?"
"Is it okay if…?"
"Never mind, it's not important."
There was a silent hesitance on the other side of the line, so silent that she could actually hear him breathe.
"Meet me at the clubhouse at midnight"
The conversation ended right there.
Kuki looked up at the clock that hung lazily on the wall. It was twenty minutes past midnight. Recalling the hesitance in Wally's tone earlier, she wondered if she should bother to stay any longer. After all she found no meaning this whole thing.. From the very beginning it was already a surprise to hear his voice through the phone, let alone ask her to meet him in the middle of the night. Her number had always been nothing to him, but another name in his phonebook.
He arrived just as she was about to leave. They met at the door when he entered and found her standing there.
"You're leaving?" He asked.
"You're late" She scolded softly.
"I didn't mean to make you wait. I'm sorry."
Kuki was surprised. Wally, saying sorry? That was unusual. It made her wonder if there was something different about him tonight. Though she wanted to leave, her curiosity seems to be getting the best out of her. Overcoming her better judgment, she walked away from him but not out the door but back to the couch. She sat down on the same spot where she had been waiting from him. There was silence in the room for a while as he quietly walked towards her without speaking a word. It was like a knight trying to avoid waking a fierce, slumbering dragon. Though she came up with the thought herself, Kuki was a bit upset to think that he might see her that way. It didn't help much either to make her feel better when he sat down next to her and kept a good distance of two feet between them. For once she wished that he could just sit a little bit closer. After all, they're friends. They're allowed to sit close together.
These thoughts went through Kuki's mind like clouds that swiftly rolled through the sky. She was so deep in thought that she almost forgot that Wally was there. By the time she looked at him, she found that his head was leaning back onto the arch of the couch and his eyes were closed as he paced himself with a steady breath. He was asleep. Kuki was upset again. Is she really that unimportant to him that he could actually fall asleep easily in her presence? Then again, he did look quite charming as he slept. When she leaned in to have a closer look, she sensed the smell of liquor.
"Oh that's right..." She thought, "He's probably drinking again."
It somehow made her feel better to know that it wasn't her that caused his slumber, but the liquor he had consumed. As he slept, she continued to stare. It's been a quick eight years that had gone by. for the first time she noticed how much he has changed since they were kids. He's grown quite well, she'll admit. His blonde hair had grown darker and seemed naturally unkempt, though it was still golden and sweet. His cheeks, which were once so babyish and plump, had been replaced by manly cheekbones. His neck was long and attractive, leading down to a body that was thin but muscular; and though he was sitting, Kuki could tell that he was tall as six feet high. He was no longer the boy she remembered. He was now a man.
She put a hand on his cheek and caresssed his hair with her fingertips. By her gentle touch he awoke easily, revealing two green eyes to her.
"You fell asleep" She told him.
He looked at her as if he didn't hear her. He just sat there staring with those half-lit eyes and lips that seem to pout naturally, something that has become a remnant of his anti-social childhood. In return she gave him a gentle smile, one that stood apart from all her other smiles for this one was more subtle and sweet. It didn't matter to him. Any of her smiles can make him warm, though he would never fully admit it.
"You haven't told me why you asked me to meet you here" She said, sitting back down and ending the subtle moment between them.
"I was hoping I wouldn't have to talk about it too soon" He said sitting up and rubbing his eyes, "I just wanna try and feel better for now"
From those words alone, Kuki already knew what this meeting was meant for: consolation. It's nothing knew as far as recent events were concerned. She knew of the problems he's been facing with his education and his father. She decided not to force him to talk about it so she kept her mouth quiet. Instead, she lit up the room with a smile.
"Come on" She stood up and tugged on his hand.
"Where are we going?"
"Take me for a walk"
"You need some coffee, Wally. I can tell you've been drinking again. I can smell the liquore in you."
"It's past midnight"
"And it's a safe neighborhood. You and I both know that. Besides," She leaned over closely, "You'll protect me, right?"
He stared into her thoughtful lilac eyes, feeling all her trust seeping into his soul. Even now he's still surprised by how much she trusted him, let alone cared for him.
"Well? Don't I get an answer?" She asked.
He didn't need to say a word. All he had to do was rise from his seat, allow her arm to slip around his and together they walked out the door.
"See? Now this isn't so bad" Kuki said to him gleefully as they walked out the coffee shop, "It's a beautiful night, we have some hot coffee, and we're still in one piece!"
"That's only because I know all the bad guys in this neighborhood and where they hang out. They're my friends"
"Don't be so silly. We're safe because you're here with me"
She cuddled his arm sweetly. It made him smile though he didn't show her. When she looked at him, he turned himself away from her and began to distract himself with his own cup of coffee. Ignoring its hotness, he drank it all in one gulp. He then tossed the up and in a trash can tht the passed and muttered, "I hate coffee." She laughed gently. Once again, there was another smile for him to hide.
A few more steps later, Wally began to whistle a tune. The silence between them was making him awkward.
"What song is that?" Kuki asked him.
"Just something I picked up a long time ago."
"It doesn't sound like anything you'd be into."
"I guess it's just special."
Minutes after coming out of the coffee shop, the two stumbled upon the park. Kuki was delighted to see it, realizing how long it has been since they've paid a visit. She cheerfully pulled Wally by the hand and he simply followed along. They walked around, following the cobblestone path on the ground and passing the gentle, golden light of every lamp post until the found the perfect spot. They sat on a wooden bench together. Like always, Wally sat in an awkwardly long distance from her. No words were spoken for a while. All they did was distract themselves with the starry sky and the soothing chorus of a cool, gentle breeze and chirping grasshoppers. A lamp post stood a few yards away and barely lit them up. No wonder Kuki jumped when a small flame burst out of nowhere. Wally was lighting a cigarette.
"Hey! That's bad for you." She said, "It 's stinky and it makes your lungs dirty."
"My lungs are happy that way."
Kuki watched his every whisp of his cigarette, watching every silver stream of smoke flow from his mouth then mix with the air. He had barely gone halfway through the stick when she took it from him and threw it to the grass.
"Hey..." He groaned.
"I'm doing you a favor. It's bad for you."
"I get cold when I don't smoke. How else am I supposed to keep myself warm?"
She smiled at him thoughtfully. Slowly she scooted towards him and wrapped her arms around his neck. Had he been ten years old, he would've pulled away immediately. But he wasn't ten years old. He was eighteen, therefore he welcomed her embrace.
"You know, I think this is the first time I've ever been here at night." Kuki said, "I didn't know it was this pretty. We should come here more often" She turned to him and smiled, "You never take me out enough. You better start making up for it."
"What are you talking about? I've taken you out lots of times."
"But all those times, you had to be forced. You never really went anywhere with me unless you had no choice..."
"When we were ten, I went with you to that Rainbow Monkey Festival that you love so much."
"That was after I scratched you all the way to the entrance gates."
"There was that time when our parents' took us to their office and we got to hang out."
"Your dad made you go."
"What about that ball we went to?"
"We weren't alone. Our friends were there. It doesn't count."
"I played tea party with you once when we were ten."
"That's only because you broke my Mr. Huggykins stuffed toy."
"That time at the beach?"
"Our friends were there too. Not to mention you kept to yourself and just laid buried in the sand."
"The slumber party?"
"You were there by mistake."
"The tub-a-thon at the lake?"
"That was a social gathering and you barely talked to me because you wanted to win so bad."
"The pool party at my house?"
"Same thing. It was a party. It wasn't just the two of us."
"What about that time I ate that bad brussel sprout?"
"You were passed out because of food poisoning."
Wally kept his disappointment to himself when he felt her arms slip away from him.
"I guess we were never really close enough to hang out alone together…"
Everything about the evening changed since she said that. Though the wind still blew, the stars still shined and the grasshoppers still sang, it was as if all the soothing feeling had been drained out by their new-found lack of friendship. Of course, Kuki was mistaken. Wally knew of one last answer that could change her mind.
"The play." He said.
Kuki looked at him but didn't meet his eyes. He stared straight ahead as if refusing to look at her.
"We were in fourth grade. Remember the school play? You had the lead role and you were really excited about your big solo. But then you missed out on it and after that you were alone in the auditorium, crying. I stayed with you."
"You even agreed to sing the solo with me just to make me feel better..." Kuki smiled, "But that doesn't count either. You only went because of guilt. You were the first one who interrupted the play and the other kids followed along."
"No guilt can make me sing a love song."
Kuki smiled to herself. He was right. Whatever reason he had for singing that solo with her, he must've kept it to himself. It even didn't matter if she would find out or not. She's just glad that she thought wrong about him. "It's amazing how time flies by when you're having fun. I can't believe we've been friends for eight years already"
"Yeah. You used to be such an annoying little girly-girl. You still are."
"And you're still the wreckless meanie that I remember!"
They both laughed for a bit.
"You've grown so well, though" She continued afterwards, "You may not know it, but you've become such a gentleman."
He didn't thank her for what she said. At least, he didn't say it out loud. The subtle smile on his face was enough to tell her that he appreciated it. Also, as he smiled at her, he couldn't help but notice how her long, dark hair dance to the wind and how her diamond-shaped eyes seemed to light up in the dark. He chose not to tell her that she was more beautiful than ever, even more than when they were still young.
"We had fun when we were kids." She said, putting a head on his shoulder, "I'd give anything to go back and experience it again."
"I'd give anything to live in it forever."
In the silence that followed, they seemed to have separated in thought. Though Kuki still smiled at the memories of their early years together, Wally began to feel a burning in his heart. He suddenly remembered why he called her up in the first place and he was ready to talk about it.
"We had another fight."
Kuki stopped reminiscing. She looked at him and saw that he was frowning again, just as he always did. "Is it your dad again?"
"My acceptance letter from Warburton University arrived today and he found it."
"I guess that means he still wants you to join the military..."
"I don't understand why he's acting that way. Back in tenth grade, I didn't mind settling for a D in my report card and he was still the nicest guy in the world. Now...I'm actually going to graduate and he decides to start ordering me around. It's like he's not my dad anymore. It's like I would've been happier with him if I kept failing."
"Don't say that, you're doing really great. I'm sure he has his reasons. He probably wants you to join the military because he thinks it's best for you."
"Did you tell yourself that when your parents divorced?"
A surge of pain overwhelmed Kuki, almost bringing tears to her eyes.
At the same time, guilt came over Wally. "I'm sorry..." He said.
The silence was no longer soothing. Even the beauty of the night couldn't break the tension inside each of them.
"Wally, I want to ask you something."
"What is it?"
"Why did you call me…? We have other friends. Why me?"
"It shouldn't come as a surprise to you."
"It does. You've never called me before, not even in the eight years that we've been friends."
"Does that make us any less of friends?"
"No but...it's not even just that..."
"What is it then?"
"It's everything. It's every moment since we met. You've never really…"
"You've never really cared for me that much."
Wally was quiet. Kuki would've given everything to know what was going through his mind but she knew that the only way to find out is to wait.
"Why do you always expect me to be the cruel one?"
She couldn't say anything.
"Just because I act like this doesn't mean I don't care."
He stood up from his seat to walk around a bit, just to be away from her a bit. When he looked at her, his green eyes seemed to burn with pain. Yet, she couldn't help but notice some kind of deep longing hidden beneath his frustration.
"I guess I'm just the time of person who needs reassurance. This whole time we've been friends, it never really felt like you could even stand to be near me. It's like...I never made you happy... That's why I don't understand why you chose me tonight."
The disbelief continued to posses Wally. He wanted to tell her everything but he didn't know how. Still, it was worth a try. "I chose you because I know that you're the only one who could even come close to making me feel better...like how you always did since we were kids. If there was any truth to you never making me happy then tell me why I went to the Rainbow Monkey Festival or to my father's office year after year, even though I hated it. Tell me why I bothered to go to the parties that I couldn't stand or kept the pool in my yard when I couldn't even swim. If I hate you so much like you say I do, tell me why I still whistle your solo even though I never liked that song at all."
The tune that he was whistling earlier suddenly played in Kuki's mind. Yes, she remembered now. It was the solo from the fourth grade play, the one that he had hesitantly agreed to sing with her.
"Ever since we were kids, I felt nothing but hated. I had parents who loved me, but were blamed for how reckless I behaved. I had friends, but only a few who actually cared enough to deal with me all the time. You were different. You didn't know me that well and you were never interested in the things I liked, but you trusted me. You cared for me like a real friend. It was so hard for me to believe that it scared me and I tried to push you away each time. I always ran from you but I also come back the same way. You always helped me forget anything painful. That's why I always protect you. That's why I called you tonight. Everything around me has changed. Everyone has grown up and moved on. But you...you're still the same as when we were kids... You still make me happier than I deserve to be."
The whole walk home was silent. Unlike earlier that night, however, or the past eight years, there was no distance between them. Every question seem to have been answered and every word seem to have been spoken. Their friendship was no longer silent.
"Here we are." Kuki said softly as they stood before her house, "Are you going to be alright?"
"Yeah... I'll try to work something out with my dad in the morning."
"Okay. Thank you for taking me out tonight. I had a great time. And we had some great talk about memories, huh?"
"Right." Wally said, "If only we could go back to those years..."
Kuki smiled at him. For a second, she saw the little boy that he used to be, the one that dodged eye contact and seemed to drown in inner fear and rejection. She walked up to him just a little bit closer. "Listen, Wally. We're not kids anymore. We're growing up, okay? And things will probably get harder along the way."
"You don't have to worry. You'll be find. Just keep growing."
"And don't forget, I'll always be here. I'll always be that annoying little girly-girl that you know." She smiled.
"I'd like that." He said.
Upon seeing her lips curl sweetly, he realized that there was something left for him to say and it was neither word nor question. She was just about to walk away and enter her house when he pulled her back gently by the hand. She was puzzled when she looked back at him but he wasted no time hesitating. He took her face into his hands and pressed his lips against hers. Her face was a mix of joy and surprise when they pulled away. She chose not to speak but simply gave him her last smile for the night. After she disappeared into her house, Wally began to walk home. Thinking back to that kiss, he couldn't help but smile. For the first time in his life, he was finally able to tell her what he's been longing to say since their childhood together. He didn't just care for her. He loved her.