Day One

Present Day

I can’t believe he doesn’t remember me. I absolutely want to laugh; only he will think me crazy, having just been left alone with him when Liz went ahead to get us some drinks. This is insane. This is completely insane. Of all times and places, why did I have to see him again during a wedding reception?

Liz left us at one of the bazillion cocktail tables inside the hotel ballroom. We stand facing each other awkwardly for what seemed like an eternity. He smiles at me politely and I look at him curiously. Is he fucking kidding me? Suddenly my mind whirs back to two months ago—to that dreadful encounter I forced out of my mind.

Two months, three days, and five hours ago.

Kate convinced me it was a good idea to go to the ESL seminar in our alma mater and show everyone else that we are successful, single twentysomethings at the prime of our lives.

“It’s going to be a good seminar! Plus, I hear Raymond is also going. Didn’t you two have a thing back in sophomore year?” She said, trying to sound as if the thought just came out of nowhere. We were having our weekly Coffee Thursdate, a thing we vowed we’d always do after graduation. We’ve been having too much caffeine intake because of this for three years now.

I cringed a little but I just shrugged, determined to ignore another hint for me to start dating. She gave me a sideways glance from her seat. “Mike and Ella called yesterday and told me that they’ll meet us after the seminar because they don’t feel like attending. This is going to be fun. We haven’t seen them in a while. It’ll be nice to catch up with everyone!” she finished with a big, contented smile. I nodded silently and had another sip of my coffee. I resisted the urge to point out to her that she had just been fired from her job and I had just broken my recent engagement, and therefore, it will NOT be nice to catch up with everyone.

“You have got to be shitting me,” I tell Kate for the third time. “This is not what we paid for! What the hell do they think they’re doing with all this?” I gesture at the entire room, which we expected to be packed full of alumni and fellow teachers attending the seminar, but which had only three lousy tables with four ancient people apiece. I hate people who are good at Marketing. Where were the esteemed speakers they invited to talk about the ‘Role of Linguistics to Teaching English as a Second Language’? Where were the ‘hundreds of guests confirmed, don’t get left behind!’?

We eased our way to one of the tables near the back door, just in case we want to cut the boredom short. We were about twenty minutes early for the program, and as expected, it started an hour later. Ten minutes into the first speaker’s opening remarks, I smiled sweetly at Kate and whispered to her, “Kill me now.”

“Shut up, JP!” she said smiling back. “Professor Sia’s giving a talk later,” she was scanning the seminar program with an interested look. “God, I miss college. I know I’m not teaching right now, but I already feel inspired to teach just being here.”

“I’m glad you’re finding inspiration amidst this major snoozefest. It really shows your optimism, Kate,” I said, giving her my most mock-compassionate look.

“Jennifer Pauline,” she started, and I cringed at hearing my complete name. “Could you stop being annoying for ten seconds and enjoy the fact that we are in the presence of important people?”

“Kate, you do realize that the presence of important people here will not help our careers in any way whatsoever, right? I work in Advertising and you were a Research Analyst. These people are doctors in Linguistics.” She started to answer, but I continued. “I’ll give you an hour to listen to Prof. Sia, but after that let’s get out of here, please. I seriously need a drink.”

She contemplated the thought for a few seconds before answering me. “Fine,” she folded. “I’ll text Ella that we’ll be meeting them earlier. Besides, I don’t see Raymond anywhere. Meet them at the Plantation?” I nodded, ignoring the Raymond comment again. She proceeded to get her phone to text Ella, and I tried to focus back on the speaker, who has begun to talk about the Absence of Copula in Foreigner Talk. I started thinking about how much better it would be to have an emergency eject button under my seat right now.

With the recent crisis in my love life and Kate’s career catastrophe, the last thing I needed to hear was a 50-year old man talking about how it is an important phase for people who are just beginning to learn their second language to discover how to connect their words into coherent sentences using copula. There were several studies and everything. It was a very important thing for these people. I have nothing against Linguistics. It was my major anyway. It just seemed an insignificant matter right now that my life was in pieces. I mean, who cares if people understood each other or not without copula? We rarely understand each other given the right words anyway. I seriously doubt that miscommunication stems from our lack of verbs. It results from people refusing to understand others and sticking to their own stupid opinions all the time.

“JP, let’s go!” Kate hissed, waking me up from my bitter daydream. “Mike and Ella’s ten minutes away from the Plantation. They said they’re with some friends.”

“Wait a minute,” I said, not getting up from my seat. I was sensing danger from what she said. This could not be innocent, us meeting old classmates who just happened to bring ‘some friends’. “What friends? They don’t have other friends besides us.” Mike and Ella have been dating since college and had a very small circle of friends—me and Kate and a few high school friends, whom we’ve never actually met. They can’t have other friends, especially ones who I think serve the purpose of what they have apparently planned.

Kate raised her eyebrows at me and said nothing. She pulled me up and out the door instead. She waited until we had walked the hallway from the conference room and crossed the parking lot before speaking. She was fumbling for her car keys when she spoke. “The thing is, they might have brought someone for you,” she said meekly.

“WHAT THE FUCK?” I screamed at her.

Two months, three days, and four hours ago.

Kate, Mike, Ella and I were sitting at one of the bigger round tables at the Plantation, the jazz bar-slash-restaurant that we used to go to in college. It was Friday night, so the resident band was there, playing smooth jazz that put me in a good mood despite the awkward situation I was in. True enough, Mike brought friends. I was flanked on both sides with his two high school friends, Jeff and Isaac. Jeff was totally gay and only agreed to come because he hadn’t seen his friends for a long time. He was adorable, chatty and was instantly BFF with Kate who was sitting on his left. Isaac was obnoxious and never smiled. He also never looked at me and talked only to Mike, who was sitting on his other side. From the moment we were introduced and sat down on the table, he has looked more bored than I was, which sucked and made me feel that we were boring him.

After three shots of tequila, four Cuba Libres, and what seemed like an eternity of not talking to anyone because I was too uncomfortable, Kate and Ella suspiciously needed to go to the bathroom together, and Mike and Jeff needed to smoke outside—all at the same time! It meant, naturally, that Isaac and I were left at the table on our own, looking like complete idiots.

When everyone got up to leave, Isaac and I glanced at each other briefly, realizing our doom. We had to talk. It was okay to talk, I thought urgently, my mind already blurry from too much alcohol intake in the past half hour. We were adults and it wasn’t as if our friends told us it was a blind date. Oh God. What if Mike told Isaac that it was a blind date?!? I panicked silently, feeling embarrassed. But when I opened my mouth, I wished back for only embarrassment because I said the stupidest things to say and I wanted to die immediately afterwards.

“You could at least pretend to have fun. They’re your friends,” I told him, my eyes already half closed. “You’re not special. Don’t be a brat. And you don’t even look like you’re very interesting to talk to. Are you?” I was still trying to convince myself that I wasn’t drunk and that I could sustain the conversation. But clearly, my choice of words proved otherwise.

“I sure hope so because I constantly seek people’s approval,” he shot back, looking at me intently. I already knew I didn’t like him the moment he sat on our table. Now I was sure I hated him, the arrogant bastard.

“What’s your deal?” I asked, genuinely curious all of a sudden.

“Just bored,” he said, rather convincingly if I may add. He smiled a little as he took a sip of his beer. For a second, he looked shockingly handsome with his dimples showing, but I remembered how annoying he was. Beautiful people are always mean. Movies taught me that.

“Aren’t we all? Everything is so boring. I can’t believe it’s so difficult to meet someone interesting these days,” I started to blabber like crazy. My inner voice was saying ‘shut the fuck up, JP’ but I shooed it away fiercely. Needless to say, I sunk even deeper in humiliation.

“Not everyone can match your IQ of 178, Pauline. Cut us some slack,” he replied, oozing with sarcasm. I repeat, I hated him.

“It’s JP—not Pauline. And it doesn’t take smarts to be interesting,” I said defensively. Why did he have to make me sound stupid and shallow? “And thank you for the sarcasm,” I said, letting him know that I wasn’t that dense.

“You’re welcome. If I’m not smart—or interesting—enough, I can always lean on sarcasm,” he says quietly. He held his gaze at me for a second too long before looking away and drinking his beer again. “But I move to drop the sarcastic act even for a while,” he adds.

“You don’t have to do that for me,” I stared at him fiercely. Was he patronizing me?

“Oh, stop,” he said, almost teasingly all of a sudden. I hated not having a witty comeback and I hated him for making me feel stupid, on top of being absolutely drunk and stupid already.

“Yeah, let’s,” I said simply. I started to stand up and walk away. I barely made two steps forward when I felt everything started spinning. Suddenly everything seemed so big and I was so small and all I could see were people’s feet. I saw his face hovering on top of mine, looking a little worried. For a moment I remembered feeling safe—until my head hit the floor and everything went black.

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