Chapter 1 - Youth
"It takes a minute to have a crush on someone, an hour to like someone, and a day to love someone… but it takes a lifetime to forget someone."
― Kahlil Gibran
"That movie totally blows."
Baralai holds the door open for his date. "How so?"
Dagger-thrown complaints intercept Paine's good manners; after tossing away the watered-down soda in the trash, she snatches the bucket of popcorn from his hands, speaking in between dainty mouthfuls. Taking in stride her deliberate stomps, Baralai withholds his opinion so she can vent to her heart's content.
"Couldn't you see? Limitless was about this novelist who couldn't write a stupid story, and then he meets some long lost brother-in-law who gives him this magical drug and… damn, the movie got boring in the middle. I was expecting more action, but the only real exciting part was near the end when that Russian guy tried to kill him. Instead, all we get is a loser living the good life. I didn't come to watch a movie about crap that already happens in real life."
To hear his friend speak of her passionate discontent shows how much she didn't enjoy herself. Baralai sighs, disappointed. Sitting down on the bench beside a stairway, he pries the empty bucket from her vice grip before Paine can hurt herself chomping on un-popped acorns.
"I'm impressed how realistic the movie was, given the fact it was science fiction. If you would stop to think about it, the movie was more than just a failure novelist who lived a dishonest life through a magical drug. Watching the movie, you could learn not to repeat the same mistakes he did. Dabbling with money and shady people while acting like you have a Jesus-complex can only bring bad luck."
Paine snorts, crossing her arms. She can feel the incoming boredom by the second half of his first sentence, and somehow manages to pay attention at the end. "Karma, right?"
"Precisely." Baralai smiles and motions for her to sit down, but she ignores the offer and remains standing. "The ending seemed happy on the surface, but look what he got himself into. He made an enemy of his own mentor, who did his best to mean well after they became rivals in the business world. And he managed to win the girl in the end? I say he doesn't deserve her."
"Well, I liked the ending. It wasn't sad. And of course he won the girl. What main character doesn't?" Tired of standing, Paine plops on the bench, lounging with her legs crossed.
"Yes, but…" He frowns, annoyed. Normally he would devise a smooth plan to make a move, perhaps hold her hand or wrap an arm around her shoulder, but expressing his opinion stole precedence. "Did you not see what he did throughout the movie? He may have cared for his girlfriend greatly, however he's far from the self-respecting type. While he had an on-off relationship with her, he slept with other women, even without the drug's influence. What does that say about his character?"
"That he's a typical guy. I think that was normal." She shrugs. "I didn't like it either, but so what? It's just a movie."
"Yes. You're right. It's just a movie." Baralai slumps into his seat, resigned. He expected Paine to be more delicate or considerate outside her blunt persona when they were alone, but she still acts the same even without their friends around. At the least, he wanted her to possess some capacity to hold a meaningful or intellectual conversation about a movie beyond its mere purpose of entertainment. Maybe he expected too much, or maybe he did not know Paine as well as he thought he did. Regardless of the facts, today discouraged his feelings.
"I have to go to the bathroom. Mind waiting?"
"No. Take your time."
And she departs up the stairs, hurrying to relieve herself. Baralai disposes of the bucket in the meantime, wiping his hands afterwards with a clean napkin. Salt and butter still lingers on his fingers, and he sighs. He wants to wash his hands clean, but what if Paine gets out first and sees him not here? She might jump to conclusions. No amount of reasoning can sway this girl. 'To wait or not to wait? Hm…'
Before he can return to his place of vigil at the bench, someone calls out to him.
"Baralai!" Hovering by the food counter, Yuna waves. There's something enticing about the innocent energy found in each bounce of her step, how she almost seems to skip on her way over to greet him. "Fancy seeing you here." Unique beauty glows in her blue and green eyes, and he feels blessed to have met someone with heterochromia who feeds his intellectual curiosity. Gippal would call it a "fetish" or "guilty pleasure," if he were to ever discover this embarrassing secret.
He smiles, mood a little uplifted. "Hello. It's nice to see you. Are you with your parents?"
"Mm-hmm. They are buying food." Yuna grins, indicating the direction from whence she came.
Baralai raises an eyebrow. What teenager shows genuine excitement to be found at the movies with their parents? He peers over Yuna's shoulder, curious. The grown man with long hair tied in a Japanese ponytail must be her father, too busy paying the cashier to acknowledge his daughter's disappearance. His wife must be the pretty blonde woman beside him who stares without bothering to hide the fact. Her mischievous smile amuses him somehow, motivating him to give a polite wave. His acknowledgment only eggs her on, eagerly waving back. Baralai chuckles when she makes the two-finger sign: I am watching you.
Yuna giggles. "My mom likes you."
Sensing the mock conspiracy in her hushed voice, Baralai matches her tone mirth for mirth. "How do you know?"
"I saw you two make eye contact."
"Of course. Wouldn't it be rude otherwise?"
Yuna nods with a knowing smile. "Yes, but… My mom always says that a person willing to make eye contact shows great character."
"Oh. Well." Baralai blushes a little, flattered. "Tell her I said thank you."
"I will. So, what movie are you going to watch?"
"Limitless. I already watched it." Since their conversation brought his given circumstance back into full circle, Baralai already feels his mood deteriorating. He didn't want to reflect how successful this expenditure turned out to be, lest he reconsider his prospects. "Now I'm waiting for my date to return from the bathroom." Yuna looks stricken, as if scandalized by the thought she might have been interrupting something important, and then smiles when she thinks about who he may be with.
"Is it Paine? Rikku told me."
"She's still the gossiper, I see."
"Oh, I'm sorry. Was that supposed to be private?"
Baralai blinks, surprised by the depth of her serious sincerity, and he laughs. "No. You don't have to apologize. I'm only teasing."
"If you don't mind me asking, have you finished writing your first draft?"
"For our History paper? Not yet. I'm still brainstorming."
"For me," Yuna says, clasping her hands together, and looking to the ceiling above, "brainstorming is watching a storm come in close, and you can see all the lightning and hear all the thunder. But it never actually hits. Something complex and altogether wondrous. Don't you think?" Baralai finds her enthusiasm infectious, feeling the corners of a smile mimic her own. His mind produces a mental image of nature's more violent side, tearing the world asunder and instilling fear within the minds and hearts of countless civilians. Baralai can't deny the raw and frightening beauty found there.
"Yes, like… you can feel there are great ideas, but they are far away in your mind."
"Exactly. I'm glad you understand."
Baralai chuckles and crosses his arms in mock contemplation. "Hmm… You don't seem like a chaotic person to me. I always thought you were quite peaceful."
Yuna giggles, swaying her hips. "I like to stand outside and watch thunder storms come in."
"I mean no offense, but you don't look like the type of person to."
"Well, you'd be surprised. Thunder is relaxing once you get rid of the scary part. There was one night, back when I was just a kid. There were thunder clouds all around, but right above me, the sky was clear and starry. It was beautiful."
"What a pleasant clash of colors. It sounds glorious. Perhaps I'll join you, if the weather changes."
"Hey." At the sound of her clipped voice, Baralai resists the urge to palm his forehead. Paine does not sound pleased, especially when her deliberate descent down the stairway makes his stomach churn. Broiling red emotion glows in her glare like something fierce. "We're not done with our date, right? I recall we still need to do dinner. That's how this works, last I checked."
"Oh… I, um… hi, Paine." Yuna withers at the receiving end of her hostility, confused. "I'm sorry I interrupted… I guess this means it's time for my movie. See you later, Baralai."
"See you, Yuna." Baralai hesitates to look at his irate partner, watching Yuna wave goodbye before jogging over to join her family. Undergoing mental preparation for the worse, he sighs and acknowledges Paine's seething presence. "…Was that necessary?"
"Excuse me? You're the one flirting with others while already on a date."
"Where was I when this flirting took place? Please, remind me." He doesn't appreciate this attitude, doesn't feel like dealing with it right now. "Unless I'm forbidden to talk about school…"
"Ugh. Just forget it. I'm hungry. Let's go." She crosses her arms and stalks out the theatre, bewildering him with her brisk dismissal.
"Paine, wait." When she shuts him out with stubborn silence, Baralai resigns to follow. Picking up the pace, he grasps her arm and she jerks away. "I said wait! Why are you so angry?" Paine stops stomping the parking lot long enough to sigh and uncross her arms, and her voice sounds vulnerable all of a sudden.
"I thought we were supposed to be best friends."
"What? Of course! Why would you even…" Baralai sighs, rubbing his temple. "I don't understand. Can you please tell me in a way I can?"
She turns away to hide the expression on her face. "Never mind. I don't want to talk about it."
He looks at her, silent in his agony to reach her closed heart.
What does it mean to fall in love, to give your heart out to someone special?
To fall in love like in the legends, a royal and a peasant, like in Aladdin, or lovers of rival families, like Romeo and Juliet. To be swept off your feet by prince charming, like Snow White. To fall in love at first sight, like Cinderella. To be saved by a knight in shining armor, like Sleeping Beauty. To marry the love of your life, to find romance in a sworn rival, to settle down with the resident bully, or to date the woman of your dreams.
First love. Opposites attract. Taboo. Second love. Stockholm syndrome.
Childhood friends. Star-crossed lovers. Soulmates.
How do you know when you fall in love?
Baralai sighs, shifting his focus to doodle on the corner of a page. Teenage relationships bring on a whole new world of exhaustion for him. They are so complicated, and he wonders what did he ever do to deserve his friend's wrath. Paine's behavior the day before puzzles him. He never took her for the jealous type, and since when does she ever overreact to the presence of other girls? Why has she been acting so sensitive around him lately?
Trying to understand the adolescent mindset makes his head hurt, and he decides to stop the chapter there for now. Yuna will be arriving soon to work on their essays and he needs to be prepared. Before Baralai can head upstairs to his room and grab his backpack, the cell phone rings and he stops to answer it.
"Sooo… how'd the date go?"
Baralai re-adjusts the phone on his shoulder, smiling. "Why, hello, Miss Rikku."
"What? Dude, no! This is Gippal!"
He senses his pout on the other end and chuckles. It never gets old, teasing him. "You could have fooled me."
"Now you're just being mean."
"Anyway, spill it. You didn't call me yesterday after the date, and you didn't call me at all today."
"It's one o'clock, Gippal. Half the day isn't even over. Plus it's not like I will disappear if you don't hear from me for a day or two."
"B'man, I know how you are. If you don't call in forty-eight hours, you won't feel like calling anyone for days! Remember last summer? You didn't call for three months! And when I finally heard your voice, I didn't recognize you!"
"You see me at school everyday. And you know I'm not a cell phone kind of person."
"We're two years apart, and you're in all those advanced classes and you go straight home after school ends. I'm lucky to even catch you during lunch! See how hard I work to be your best friend?"
"Right now you're trying to guilt trip me into giving you details about yesterday. I know your ploy." He does feel guilty, of course, does not feel proud of his tendency to value his solitude over time with his friends, but Gippal doesn't need to know that. "Why don't you be honest with yourself and say you miss me?"
Meandering into the kitchen, Baralai rummages through sealed and packaged food in the closet until he excavates a bag of pretzels. Maybe Yuna would like to snack on these while they study. He could also make them cups of hot cocoa with the NesQuik mix…
"You're gonna be like that now? Okay. Let's see… I miss the good old days where you would bend over for me-."
Baralai blanches, mortified. "Okay, that's enough. You're embarrassing me." His face flushes in anger when he hears Gippal start cracking up. "I hate when you get crude."
"I love how you don't deny it."
"There's no point in telling you to stop. You don't like to listen."
"If you really want me to listen, now's the perfect time~."
"Well." Pouring pretzels into a medium-sized bowl, Baralai wraps a rubber band around the bag and places it aside for later. He leans on the counter while munching on the salty treat. "It was… bittersweet."
"Bittersweet? As in she left you wanting more or she didn't want to go all the way or you left much to be desired~?"
"Please do me a favor and destroy that moronic line of thinking."
"C'mon. Don't deny it. You were thinking it."
"I'm not you, Gippal." Pause for dramatic effect. Baralai finishes chewing and swallows, plucking another pretzel from the pile. "You are a sex fiend."
"And you, my dear friend," Gippal says, mimicking his well-mannered voice to sound obnoxious, "are a beast with too much pent-up energy."
"I am not a beast with too much pent-up energy."
"You need a lady friend. Seriously. You're as stiff as a turd."
Baralai sighs, reigning in his annoyance. "I have no comment for you this time."
"Your unwillingness to talk means that I'm right!"
"If that's what helps you sleep at night then please, keep telling yourself that." The doorbell rings and he stands straight, pilfering a napkin from beneath the sink to wipe his hands. "That must be Yuna. I'm sorry to cut our conversation short, but I have to go."
"Yuna? Ooh, Yuna. Tidus's ex-girlfriend. Be careful whose territory you tread, B'man."
"Pardon me?" Tossing the napkin away, Baralai ambles into the living room with a stern beat to his step. He halts by the front door, holding the phone in his hand now. "Do you always have to associate people by their past relationships? Yes, Yuna. My classmate, my friend. Interpret it however way you like. She's here to study with me."
"Geez, you don't have to get so defensive."
"Well, I apologize for being defensive. Sometimes I don't like the way you talk about people."
"Touchy, touchy… okay. See ya, dude."
"Yes. Talk to you soon."
"We'll continue this another day!"
"Yes, we shall discuss in full the incriminating details of my love life."
"Nonexistent love life." Baralai rolls his eyes in a rare moment of insolence. "And don't you be rolling your eyes at me. It's true!"
"Farewell, but not goodbye."
Baralai smiles. "Farewell, but not goodbye."
Ending the call, he pockets his phone and opens the door. Standing on his porch and shivering in her grey peacoat, Yuna smiles. The polite greeting he planned to give dies on his tongue. It stuns him for a moment how her long beautiful red scarf flows in the cold wind, how her short and layered hair floats around cheeks pinched pink with cold. His fingers itch for a pen to write down the details of this pretty phenomenon.
Yuna's mouth forms words that Baralai barely manages to catch.
"Hello. Thank you for having me."
"You…" He clears his throat and smiles. "You look pretty."
She blushes, flattered. "Th-Thank you."
"Thank you for coming." He steps aside to invite her in and she brushes by, taking off her coat.
"But of course. Were you talking to Gippal? Is he here?"
"Oh." Pause. He contemplates, nervous. How much of the conversation did she pick up?
Baralai obscures his discomfort behind a laugh, and offers to put her coat in the closet. Yuna gives a quiet 'thank you' and relinquishes it; he reciprocates with a quick 'you're welcome' and puts it away. "No. I was on the phone with him. How did you know?"
She giggles. "I heard you say his trademark goodbye."
He steps outside to look at the sky. Cloudy and windy, with the possibility of rainshower. Baralai frowns and holds out his hand, feeling water sprinkle onto his palm. The calm before the storm. How fitting of the weather to reflect his current mood, or maybe it heralds the tides to come. Somewhere deep inside, he dreads what the future will bring.
"Baralai? What are you doing?" Yuna stands by the doorway, bundling the scarf around her neck to add extra layers. She extends her hand, as if coaxing him to snap out of his senses and come inside.
"Ah, yes. I'm sorry, I was checking the weather…"
Never did a woman look so warm and inviting than in this given moment. He enjoys the soft feel of her small hand in his own and smiles, before closing the door behind him.