Continued from part 1
“David! I’m giving you a client for work,” it was James, my childhood best friend. He was successful, all right, unlike me. He owns the shop where I work as a lay-out artist.
But I don’t understand why he’s calling me now and entrust me with a client. He called me off of work for leaving clients in the middle of progress that he had to pay them back their money. I remember him reminding me what a donkey I am, and how it brought me to where I am now.
Of course it was all true that it hit me right through my every bone. But I don’t have plans letting myself be dipped down by people, even by my own best friend. So I, with my forehead up high, thanked him and told him I’m never coming back.
“Yeah, yeah. I know. I shouldn’t be calling you right now,” he said, as if electronically reading my mind, “but if you don’t get your head over here by two, we’re done,” and the phone gave a long beep.
Has he ever known what I felt about everything that he said? Has he ever known anything? Right, he shouldn’t be calling me, or even think about it. But this is not the time. I should be thanking him for trusting me again, though it’s something I don’t deserve from him.
I decided to get out of bed, and brushed the dizziness off my eyes.
I entered James’s shop as soon as I arrived. I looked around, giving my eyes some time to adjust from the intense light of the early afternoon sun to this dim room. But my gaze led me to a familiar silhouette. I stared, helping myself to see more clearly the image before me.
“Hi,” it said. It was a voice belonging to a female. It was a voice I know. My mind recognized who she was immediately.
I was taken aback. I was speechless. I opened my mouth to speak my mind out. I forced out whatever sound my throat could produce; I forced all the air out of my lungs. But it was of no use. I can’t speak. I can’t speak like I did four years ago.
“David, my friend!” James exclaimed, saving me from further possible shame, “you are thirty minutes late, but I want you to meet your very patient client,” emphasizing on ‘very,’ “Jasmine Ventura.”
I stared at James, unbelieving that this was all true.
“Uhh… she needs someone who can lay-out invitation cards. Birthday invitation cards. She’ll tell you the rest of the information,” he added, and rushed to the back of the room where his office is.
I turned to her, waiting for her to speak. But she stood for a few more moments. I tried to read her face, tried to understand her expression. Was she surprised like I was? Has she expected to see me? How does she feel now that she knew I’d be the one she’ll be working with? Will she turn away and find someone else to work with her instead? And if she did, will I let her go? Will I let her go like I did before?
“I need a hundred invitations for my son’s birthday.”
Does she know how to be not so honest and direct? I thought. That sentence felt like a shotgun blown to my chest.
I know you have a son, okay? I know. You don’t have to tell me. You don’t have to tell me you’ve moved on, and you thought I did but, really, I didn’t. You don’t have to tell me you’re happy now, and you thought I am but, really, I’m not.
“Okay,” was all I said, holding back the words, keeping myself back together, “tell me more.”
She was sleeping quietly beside me, empty sheets between our bodies. She was embracing me; her smile was an evidence of satisfaction.
I just stared at her, reminding myself how lucky I am for a woman like her to love me, for a woman like her to accept a man like me.
I brushed a strand of hair away from her face, carefully, because she looked so fragile next to me. Unsuccessful, I woke her up.
“Hey,” she whispered, “aren’t you tired yet?”
“Oh, okay. Sleep when you are, okay? See you in dreamland,” she said, and closed her eyes, her arms still around me.
“See you,” and leaned forward to kiss her forehead.
“Okay, by 6 then. I have to pick Rex from school,” Jasmine spoke from the other line.
“Okay, ‘bye,” I answered, and hung up.
Keep conversations short, they say. That’s what I’m doing, all right? Not to be intentionally sweet, but I’m afraid wrong words will come out of my mouth.
And I think I’d better consider this pure work. Set aside the past, set aside whatever came and had gone. This is work, and I should be thinking that James gave me another chance to prove to him that he was wrong, that I am not a dumbhead.
The clock struck 4. Too early to get myself prepared to meet Jasmine. But I am trustworthy. I am professional, and I am prompt at meetings. So I grabbed my towel and headed to the bathroom.
I walked my way to the restaurant. And through the transparent walls, I saw Jasmine, beautiful in her white dress. Beautiful as ever. She was sitting there, patiently waiting for me.
She never changed. She’s still the one who’s patient. She’s still the one who’s waiting. Then this means I never changed. I’m still the one who’s been late. I’m still the one who’s been waited for.
“Good evening,” I greeted as my feet finally brought me to her.
She only smiled, and the place got even brighter.
“So, uhh, Rex is my son’s na—“
“Yeah, yeah, you mentioned in the call.”
“Uh, right. So I’m thinking of a superhero theme, particularly on Marvel heroes. Rex’s hooked on them.”
I nodded, unspeaking.
“Uh, huh,” she said, nodding with me, “and the message could go something like, ‘You,’ and then the name of the invited, ‘are invited to be one of Rex’s superhero on July 19 at Ventura’s residence.’”
Ventura’s residence. She’s not married?
She was continuously speaking, but I can’t understand what she’s saying. Ventura’s residence. Such phrase kept ringing in my mind.
“…so that’s it. All the Marvel heroes should be—“
“You’re not married?”
She fell silent, realizing that she gave me an idea.
“You’re not married?” I repeated, as if she didn’t hear me.
“All the Marvel heroes should be there. I’ve got to go. Bye,” she grabbed her bag and rushed out of the restaurant.
I didn’t stop her. I should have, but I was stunned. I am finding a hard time to register the words she said. Ventura’s residence. Ventura’s residence.
I was at James’s shop, finishing Jasmine’s invitation cards.
“Miracle. You’re finally finishing your work,” James remarked.
I didn’t reply. I don’t want to talk to him about Jasmine because, obviously, he wants to talk about her.
The shop door opened, and Jasmine came into view. She went directly to where I and James are.
“Good afternoon,” she said, looking at me and James, “is it done?”
“Almost,” I answered, “I had to arrange some images some more, and print it. Then it’s done.”
“Okay,” she smiled, “I’ll be back tomorrow for the cards and the payment.”
She started to head to the door, but stopped short and turned back, “Anyway, you two are invited.”
“Happy birthday, Super Rex!” everybody shouted, followed by the clapping of hands, “Wish! Wish! Wish!”
James and I were at the back, witnessing all the invited children in their fancy superhero costumes. Rex was on a chair, as if he was on a high platform. Jasmine was behind him, guarding.
Rex closed his eyes, doing the crowd’s demand, smiling at the wish he came up in his mind, and blew the candle as he opened his eyes. The crowd clapped and cheered.
But it was only then that I noticed. 4. The lighted candle in Rex’s birthday cake was shaped 4. Rex just turned four.
When the party was already done, I helped Jasmine clean the trash.
She was astonished, “you don’t have to help me.”
“Tell me the truth, Jasmine. Is Rex my son?”
She stopped from cleaning the plates. She put down all the utensils on the table, and turned to me, “You have to go home, David. Your job is done.”
“I won’t go unless you tell me,” I insisted.
“Yes. Yes, he’s your son. Happy?” she screamed.
I grabbed her shoulders, and forced her to look to me, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I don’t want you to know. I wished to stay away. I… I don’t want to get hurt anymore.” Tears fell from her eyes.
Nilea is a BS Education student of Ateneo de Davao University.