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?"
Paine prefers dagger-thrown complaints over good manners; after she tosses away the watered-down soda, she snatches the bucket of popcorn from his hands and begins chomping down on them. "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 mean, 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."
Baralai withholds his opinion so she can vent to her heart's content, but to hear of her passionate discontent makes him sigh. Sitting down on a bench beside a stairway, he pries the empty bucket from her hands before Paine starts biting down on the acorn bits.
"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 some kind of magical drug. Watching the movie, you could learn not to repeat the same mistakes he did. Dabbling in greed and shady people while acting like you have a Jesus-complex can only bring bad luck."
Paine scoffs, crossing her arms. "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 only 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 in this moment, he feels the need to challenge her opinion. "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 reclines into his seat, resigned. He expected Paine to act a little more considerate outside her blunt persona, but she still acts the same even without their friends around. Or at least see her possess some capacity to hold a meaningful or intellectual conversation about a movie beyond its mere purpose of entertainment, but alas the day has chosen to disappoint him. Did he set his expectations too high, or did he presume to know her when in fact he only saw the surface?
"I have to go to the bathroom. Mind waiting?"
"No. Take your time."
While Paine departs up the stairs, hurrying to relieve herself, Baralai decides to dispose of the bucket in the meantime, wiping his hands on his jeans. He can still feel the salt and butter on his fingers, further annoying him, and before he can head for the men's bathroom, 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 can't help but stare whenever they are engaged in conversation. Gippal would call it a "fetish" if he were ever to discover this embarrassing secret of his.
He smiles. "Hello. It's nice to see you. Are you with your parents?"
"Mm-hmm. They are buying food." Yuna grins, indicating the direction from where she came.
What teenager shows genuine excitement to be found at the movies with their parents? Baralai raises an eyebrow, curious, and peers over Yuna's shoulder. The grown man with long, brown 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 at them without bothering to hide the fact. Her mischievous smile amuses him for some reason, motivating him to give a polite wave.
Baralai chuckles when she makes the two-finger sign: I am watching you.
Yuna giggles. "My mom likes you."
"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." Baralai already feels his mood deteriorating at the simple reminder. He doesn't want to reflect on 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 panics, as if worried that she might have been interrupting, and then she smiles. "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 apology, and laughs. "No. You don't have to apologize. I'm only teasing."
"Okay," she says, relieved, "Hey, 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, "Brainstorming is kind of like 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. "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, crossing his arms in mock contemplation. "Hmm… I never would have pegged you as the one who finds beauty in chaos. If anything, you always seem like a peaceful person."
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."
"That sounds glorious. If the weather ever changes to fit those conditions, I'll be sure to join you."
"Hey." Paine does not sound pleased, especially when Baralai gathers the courage to look at her. She stands atop the bottom three steps, arms hanging over the railing until she descends to reach their level. Broiling red emotion glows in her glare like something fierce, and he resists the urge to palm his forehead. "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… H-Hi, Paine." Yuna withers at the receiving end of her anger. "I'm sorry I interrupted… I guess this means it's time for my movie. See you later, Baralai."
"See you, Yuna." Baralai watches Yuna wave goodbye before jogging over to join her family, delaying the moment he must turn around to confront his irate partner. "Was that really 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 her attitude, not when he fails to see what he did wrong. "Unless I'm forbidden to talk about school…"
"Ugh. Just forget it. I'm hungry. Let's go." She uncrosses her arms and stalks out the theatre, bewildering him with her brisk dismissal.
Baralai resigns to follow, and picks up the pace to grasp her arm. "Paine, wait. I said wait! Why are you so angry?"
She jerks away, shutting him out with stubborn silence. Once she finally stops stomping across the parking lot long enough to recollect herself, she sighs and turns to face him. "I thought we were supposed to be best friends," she says, giving voice to a rare moment of vulnerability.
"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 hurt 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. Attraction of the opposites. Taboo. Second love. Stockholm syndrome.
Childhood friends. Star-crossed lovers. Soulmates.
How do you know when you fall in love?
Baralai sighs, shifting his attention to doodle on the corner of his page. Teenage relationships are so complicated, they bring on a whole new level of exhaustion, and he wonders what did he ever do to deserve his friend's wrath. Paine's behavior the day before puzzles him. Since when does she overreact to the presence of other girls? He never took her for the jealous type. Why has she been acting so sensitive around him lately?
'I know that if I spend one more minute thinking about this, I will definitely get a headache.' He lets the matter go for now. Yuna will be arriving soon to work on their essays anyway, and he needs to get ready. Before Baralai can head upstairs to his room and grab his backpack, his 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 there, 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 spending 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?" Baralai meanders into the kitchen, opening the closet to rummage through the packaged food 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, or maybe juice instead if she prefers something cold. 'Hm, decisions, decisions...'
"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 once he hears Gippal start to crack up, and he scowls. "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 for himself inside a bowl, Baralai leans on the counter and nibbles on one. "I guess you could say 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." Baralai pauses to swallow, 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 moment he hears the doorbell ring, Baralai rips a paper towel off the roll 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?" Baralai ambles into the living room with a stern beat to his step, halting beside the front door. "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. 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 unlocks 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 beautiful her long, red scarf flows in the cold wind, how beautiful her short and layered hair floats around pink cheeks pinched with cold. His fingers itch for a pen to write down the details of this phenomenon, and 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.
She brushes past him, placing her messenger bag down to take off her shoes. "But of course. Were you talking to Gippal? Is he here?"
"Oh." He pauses, nervous. How much of the conversation did she happen to pick up? Concealing his discomfort behind a pleasant laugh, Baralai offers to put her coat in the closet. Yuna gives a quiet 'thank you' and lets go, and he reciprocates with a quick 'you're welcome' before putting it away. "No. I was on the phone with him. How did you know?"
She giggles. "I heard you say his trademark goodbye."
"I see." He smiles, and then steps outside to check the weather, shivering against the brisk wind. The sky became cloudy all of a sudden in contrast to the bright and sunny morning, and he holds his hand out to feel water sprinkle on his palm. Why does the day see fit to reflect his mood? A part of him dreads what the future will bring.
"Baralai? What are you doing? You're bringing the cold in." Yuna stands by the doorway, bundling the scarf around her neck.
"Ah, yes. I'm sorry, I was just checking the weather," he says, and takes the hand she offers. It feels nice and soft against his own, which shivers in the cold, and he smiles before allowing her to pull him inside, locking the door shut behind them.
Revised as of Tuesday, November 18, 2014.