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#BookbedFictory 006: ‘Eat Now or Never’

BY IRISH FLEUR

Prompt: Your family’s carinderia has had no competitors since the beginning until one day, a new one pops up right across your place.

I looked at the canteen entrance and glanced at my watch. My friend and workmate Pamela had been chatting with me for the past thirty minutes but I wasn’t paying attention. Is he absent today? I shook my head and continued eating but stopped as soon as I saw him walking towards the ordering station.

“Oh my! There he is!” I said as I wiped my lips.

A Greek god just entered the canteen. Deep seated eyes, chiseled cheeks, perfectly symmetrical nose, and tousled hair, wearing his white long sleeve shirt and black pants. The kind of look that definitely attracts a lot of girls.

He was Joshua Ibañez, Marketing Head of Express Link and the sought-after office heartthrob that every woman in the office wants. Express Link was a company that delivers different gadgets like laptops, phones and tablets to all affiliate stores nationwide. It was also the company that I worked for.

Seeing Joshua completed my day. My eyes followed his every move, from queuing the line while holding his tray until he was about to pass the table where Pam and I were seated. I called out his name right away.

“Mr. Ibañez, you can freely sit here.” He stopped walking and looked at us before sitting next to me. I smiled sheepishly. This was the first step to my plan to make Joshua Ibañez fall in love with me.

“Suzy?”

I looked at him. “Yes?”

“Well, Pam said that you live near Sauyo, Novaliches. If you don’t mind, can I go with you after work?” Joshua asked.

I looked at Pamela, bewildered, but my friend only smiled at me. I didn’t know how he ended up asking about where I lived but at that moment, I was too preoccupied with my thoughts.

“S-sure, when?”

“Tomorrow? If it is okay with you? Don’t worry, I will bring my car.”

I just smiled and continued eating my meal. I felt so lucky! Joshua just sat beside me and now he was asking me if we could go home together. Who was I to say no? And besides, this was what I had been wishing for. For the past two years, I’d been dreaming that Joshua would recognize me.

He bid us goodbye after he finished eating and when he was gone, I couldn’t stop giggling and hitting Pam’s arm.

“Stop it, Suzy. It hurts!”

“Did you hear? He’s going to drive me home tomorrow!”

Pam rolled her eyes. “You didn’t listen, did you? He’s going to check out a place there. He said a friend of his suggested a stall for rent near that area. And I said you lived there.”

“Whatever! We’re still going home together!” I said in a sing-song voice. “I can’t wait for tomorrow. Suzy Sandalas and Joshua Ibañez in one car. And then, during the drive, our hands will intertwine then he will look into my eyes with so much passion, then in slow motion he will kiss me and then he will ask, ‘Will you be my girl Suzy?’”

“You’re getting ahead of yourself, Suzy. Don’t expect too much,” Pamela warned me.

The next day I couldn’t wait to finish work. Joshua told me to wait for him at the office lobby at exactly four o’clock. I glanced at my wrist watch and saw that I had thirty minutes left. I grabbed my bag and retouched my make up at my desk.

“Look who’s excited,” Pamela beamed at me.

“This is my special day. I must look attractive to Joshua.”

I put on powder and lip tint to compliment my natural look. I tucked some loose hair strands behind my ears and checked my clothes if there were any stains. With one last glance at my reflection, I was satisfied and walked down to the lobby and waited. A couple of minutes passed before I saw Joshua’s shadow emerge from the elevator. He didn’t come near me but instead motioned to go outside and I followed. He opened the backseat for me before going straight to the driver’s seat without saying anything. I was surprised. I expected to sit beside him.

There was an awkward silence between us the entire drive. I tried starting some small talk but he answered my questions with either yes or no, like he didn’t want to talk to me.

Suddenly, his car stopped in front of this well-known fast-food chain where a girl in a yellow top with tattered jeans waved her hand at our direction. She walked with confidence, bringing her blonde hair, false eyelashes and lips that looked like they were in a perpetual pout right to the passenger door.

She was about to hug Joshua when I coughed to catch her attention.

“I’m with my colleague,” Joshua looked at me then to the girl beside him. “This is Suzy. Suzy meet Tiffany, my friend.”

I just gave her a small smile.

“Oh… I thought it was just the two of us going there,” she purred.

Why did she have to talk like that? It was annoying.

“She lives near the area,” Joshua said nonchalantly and whisked the car away.

I was frustrated for the rest of the trip. Yesterday, I was dreaming that this could be the perfect start for me and Joshua. Instead, he brought along his friend for what I intended to be the getting-to-know-me stage.

After a couple of minutes, Joshua parked the car near my area and glimpsed at me through the rear mirror before quickly look away.

“Suzy, is it okay if we drop you here?”

Wait, what?! He was dropping me all the way here? Well, it was only a ten-minute walk to my house but still. I was left with no choice. Even if I didn’t want to, I had to leave. I took a deep breath before I stepped out of his car.

“Thanks,” I managed to say before he drove away.

 

Bad News

I thought yesterday was going to be the most wonderful day of my life but I was wrong. A friendly reminder to everyone, myself included: Don’t expect too much because too much expectation can kill you.

Joshua brought along his friend Tiffany. Tiffany with her blonde hair, pouty lips and false eyelashes. I didn’t think he was into high maintenance girls. I, on the other hand, am just content with face powder and lip tint. I thought guys loved low maintenance girls like me? However, I couldn’t deny that Tiffany was beautiful and she deserved to sit shotgun next to Joshua.

Enough, Suzy! Of course, he will give that seat to her because Tiffany was Joshua’s friend. Me? I was just his office mate. Period. Nothing else.

Pamela laughed out loud while I whined to her about what happened yesterday.

“I told you. Don’t expect too much from him. And what did he do? He dropped you off in the middle of the street ten minutes away from your house. He is so gentlemanly, isn’t he?” Pamela teased.

If she weren’t my friend I would have thrown the paper weight I was holding at her.

“Yeah, yeah. Tease me more.” I rolled my eyes. “I hate the smell of that Tiffany girl, I felt dizzy the entire trip.”

“Well, so what’s your plan? Will you still pursue Joshua?”

I shrugged.

There was a long silence between us. Having her cubicle next to mine, Pamela would sometimes complain that I use her as a shock absorber. Well, she wasn’t wrong and I was thankful for her because sometimes work could be so stressful and I needed someone to vent out my rants and plans on how to make Joshua fall in love with me. Yes, that was still my plan, as absurd and desperate sounding as it was, but the previous day’s events had dampened my spirit.

“Well, I forgive him,” I uttered while encoding on my files.

“Hello, Suzy, he doesn’t even know he did something bad to you.”

I just shrugged and continued working.

It was past four o’clock when I decided to pack my things. Pamela had gone ahead, leaving me alone waiting for a jeep under a waiting shed. A familiar car stopped in front of me and the window rolled down to reveal Joshua smiling at me.

I wanted to slap him for what he did to me yesterday but I was so overwhelmed by his smile. Aside from that, my parents also taught me how to respect other people.

“Hop in,” he said.

I didn’t need to be told twice. I tried opening the backdoor but it was locked.

“Here.” Joshua opened the door to the passenger seat and gestured for me to come in.

I sat beside him without any question. This was definitely an improvement from yesterday’s events but there was still a long silence while he drove.

“Uh… About yesterday. I’m sorry I had to drop you off like that.”

I calmed myself down and mentally counted to ten before saying anything. But he continued to talk.

“I received a text from my friend and it was urgent.”

“Well… It’s okay. I understand.”

And then silence once more. I didn’t talk again and neither did Joshua until we reached my place. He stopped the car in front of our gates. My mom and some of my family members beamed from our family carinderia. I stepped out the car and walked toward them.

“So, this is your home.” The voice startled me. I didn’t know Joshua had followed me.

“Uh, yes, thanks for driving me home.”

“Is that carinderia family-owned?” he asked.

“Yes.”

“Who is he, Suzy?” my brother Simeon asked when we got near enough to my family.

“He’s my workmate, Joshua. Joshua, this is my brother,” I told Joshua.

“Why don’t you invite your friend for snacks? Hijo,come inside, we have palabok and turon, my mom said.

I looked at Joshua who seemed awkward in the situation.

Nay, Joshua needs to go. He just dropped me off here.” I smiled at Joshua. “You can now go. Thanks again.”

“See you tomorrow.” Joshua got in his car and drove away.

“Wee… Ate, he is so handsome,” my little sister Siara teased.

I just rolled my eyes and went upstairs.

***

The following days went well between Joshua and me. He’d eat lunch with us and drive me home when he could. When he couldn’t, he’d make sure I got home safely. At the office, some of our colleagues started giving us questioning looks and gossiped about why Joshua kept hanging out with us because they always saw Joshua waiting for me outside our building.

But, really, I didn’t care. I just shrugged it off and let them think what they wanted to think.

When Pamela had been sick for two days and it was just us during lunch, he started asking about my family’s carinderia.

“What is your favourite food?” Joshua asked.

“Me? Hmm… I love sinigang na bangus and pork sisig.”

“Is that included in your family carinderia?”

“Yes, my mom’s menu is based on what my siblings and I love to eat.”

I didn’t know why he asked for my favorite dish but I thought it was a good start, like how some guys ask for information about the person they like.

***

It was early Saturday morning. I rarely woke up early on my rest days but the noise downstairs didn’t help. There seemed to be a commotion so I dragged myself down to see what was happening. And there they all were—my siblings Simeon, Siara, my mom and dad, the two cooks, Tay Obet and Nanang Pacing. It was like an emergency meeting.

“What’s happening?” I asked them.

Ate, there’s a newly open carinderia just across the street,” Siara said.

“What?”

“Our regulars are eating there now. They have a promo and their place looks so inviting,” Simeon added.

I walked towards the window and shoved the curtain aside. My brother was right. The place did look inviting. Its pastel color façade complimented its signage.

Eat Now or Never Eatery.

Wow. It was a unique name for an eatery, unlike our carinderia which had been named after my mom for a decade now. Celine Carinderia.

And there were a lot of people, the servers distinguishing themselves from the customers with their sky blue polo shirt uniforms. Why I didn’t notice all this earlier? I thought they were just renovating that place.

“We’ve only had a few customers since we opened,” Nanang Pacing said, sadness was written all over her face.

I couldn’t take it anymore. Without thinking twice I went upstairs and quickly took a bath then fixed myself and wore a comfortable shirt and shorts.

“Where are you going?” my mom asked.

“To the newly opened carinderia.

“What are you going to do?”

“Don’t worry, Nay. I won’t go there to create a scandal. I will just check their promotion and menu. Trust me.”

I looked around the newly opened carinderia and had to admit that its looks and ambiance balanced with a pang masa touch made it a box-office hit. Their menu was written in calligraphy on a chalk board, which I felt was too much effort. But honestly, the place was so inviting. I went further inside to explore some more but I wish I never did. Inside was Joshua Ibañez happily serving their customers.

 

The Plan

I couldn’t believe it.

What was he doing here? Why was he wearing a sky blue polo shirt? Was this his part-time job?

“Joshua,” I called his attention.

His eyes widened in shock. As I walked towards him, he faced the guy beside him and whispered something before coming out to greet me.

“Suzy.”

“What are you doing here?”

“Uhm… I’m one of the owners of this place.”

Owner?

“You own this?” I asked him again.

“Yes. Remember three weeks ago when I dropped you off the first time? I was checking this place out. My friend suggested we open an eatery here since the area is near a school and other establishments,” he explained.

“I didn’t know you were talking about this place in particular.”

He rubbed his nape and shyly smiled at me. I felt betrayed. He didn’t tell me that he was going to open an eatery just across our carinderia even after he found out about our family’s business. I calmed myself before I did something bad. I looked around and settled at the menu.

Pork sisig and sinigang na bangus.

What a coincidence. He asked me about my favorite food weeks ago and now it was included in their menu.

Pork sisig? Sinigang na bangus?” I asked him.

He only avoided my gaze.

Without saying anything else, I turned around and left. I wanted to punch him. Anyone can build a carinderia of their own, I knew that. But I didn’t expect that my crush, of all people, would end up being one of our competitors. Our Carinderia was doing good until Joshua’s came.

My mom and dad built this Caridenria to supplement the family income. My mom resigned from her job to look after us and my dad gave her the capital to start a business. We also made it a point to help our staff, promising work as long as they studied well. A lot of our former staff had already finished their studies by working for us. It was like a business with a cause. We currently had five staff members manning our Carinderia.

“I think there’s nothing wrong to have competitors. It’s happens everywhere,” Pamela said after I told her everything that happened.

“But they’re right in front of us! The regular customers have started eating there.”

“Well, maybe you have to think of another promo or new menu to get them back. Are you mad at Joshua?”

I scrunched my nose as I heard his name. “Maybe.”

“I thought he was your crush.”

“Yeah, that also crushed my family business.”

“So, is it goodbye Joshua now?”

“I’m torn between two lovers,” I joked. But deep inside I was already plotting how I was going to put Joshua business down.

***

The following day I saw Joshua walking towards me. I tried to avoid his gaze but he caught my arm.

“Can we talk, Suzy?”

“What for?” I asked.

“I didn’t mean to build my eatery across your house.”

“Why do you have to explain? I didn’t ask for your explanation.”

“I thought I should say sorry at least. I hope that we will have a healthy competition.”

“You don’t have to explain. It only makes you feel guilty.” I started to walk away to stop myself from doing something gruesome. Joshua sighed and put his hands in his pocket.

“Are you mad at me?”

“No?” I answered quickly. Before I knew it, I was looking up at him, his eyes like magnets pulling my spirit.

“If that’s so, can I treat you to a snack? How about a cup of milk tea?”

I considered it for a while before an idea popped into my head. “Sure, but you really have to treat me,” I grinned.

Joshua bought me milk tea from a stand a few meters away from our office building. Joshua talked a lot, sharing his favorite NBA teams, food and color. Maybe he was doing this because he felt guilty but I could help but think that this was definitely helping my plan progress.

“Is Tiffany your business partner?” I asked randomly. I wanted to know more about that collagen lips girl who looked like a Bratz doll.

Joshua chuckled and sipped his Milk tea before answering. I wanted to record the sound of his laughter for posterity. “No, Tiffany is not into business but his brother is.”

So his business partner is Tiffany’s brother?

“Anyway, I wanted to congratulate you for opening that eatery.”

“Thanks.” He looked me straight in the eyes and I suddenly felt uncomfortable.

No, no, don’t look at me like that.

“You’re making me uncomfortable,” I muttered, tucking my hair behind my ear.

“You’re so amusing, Suzy.”

I blushed. Enough with that, Joshua!

“Uh… will you be at your eatery tomorrow?” I asked.

“Yeah.”

“That’s great.” Really great for my plan.

 

Eyes on Me

The next day, I made sure to look pretty. Joshua said he was going to be at his eatery to help. I put on a pair of gray jeans and a blue V-necked shirt. I blow dried my shoulder length hair and swiped on lip tint. I had to be so beautiful enough to distract Joshua.

Yes, I was going to distract him.

“Where are you going?” my little sister asked.

“There, at the newly opened eatery.”

“You’re a traitor,” Siara scowled.

I pat her head

“You’re too grumpy, sissy.”

Nay! Ate is a traitor. She’s going to eat at that eatery,” Siara shouted while pointing her finger across the street.

Mom beamed from the kitchen, wiping her hands on her apron.

“Suzy, what are going to do there?”

“Relax, Nay! Don’t stress yourself. Remember Joshua, my workmate? He’s the co-owner of that eatery. I was just going to drop by and say hello.”

My mom’s eyes widened. “You mean the owner of that eatery is Joshua?”

“You just repeated what I said.” I pecked her on the cheeks and bid her goodbye.

“Hi Joshua!” I greeted him cheerfully. He was standing behind the cash register.

“Suzy,” he greeted back.

“Are you busy?”

He got out from behind the cashier area and called on someone to replace him. “Why?”

“Well, I told Nanay that you’re the part owner of this eatery. She wanted to see you again. Can you come with me?” I gave my best puppy-eyed look to be more convincing.

He chuckled and nodded at me. I pulled him into our carinderia, and I called Nanay while he sat on a vacant chair.

Nanay! Joshua is here!”

I got a pitch of water and handed him a glass. “Don’t be shy,” I teased him.

Joshua rubbed his nape looking uncomfortable.

“Hi Joshua, Suzy said that you’re the part-owner of that eatery,”  my mom said.

“Uh… yes, my friend and I are business partners.”

“That’s great to hear, it’s nice to know that you’re into business. You’re young and employed but still you spend your time there.”

“See, Nay? Joshua is a jack of all trades. Take note that he’s also the Marketing head,”  I proudly said.

Mom gave me a meaningful look.

“Would you like to eat something?” I turned to ask Joshua.

“I already ate,” he replied.

“How about a sandwich? I will make one. Wait for me here.” I quickly entered the kitchen and started preparing the sandwich. I knew my mom was going to follow me and soon enough, she was entering the kitchen as well.

“I know you’re planning something bad, Suzy.” She crossed her arms, looking at me furiously.

“I don’t know what you are talking about, Nay.”  I tried to avoid her gaze and focused on stuffing the break with peanut butter.

“I know you. If this is about that newly opened eatery that is owned by Joshua, you should forget about that. It’s business and it really happens. Don’t do anything stupid.”

I put the sandwich on the plate and faced my mom. “Okay, Nay. I want you to know that I’m being nice to him because I have a crush on him. Now, please stop thinking so badly of me.” Of course that was only a half truth.

My Mom lips formed an ‘o’ shape. She was obviously shocked from my confession. She shook her head and put her hands on her waist. “Tsk!” was all she said before leaving the kitchen.

I checked on Joshua and saw him silently observing some customers of ours that were eating. Either that or he was getting more information on how he could steal those customers from us.

“Hey! Here’s your sandwich,” I said, putting the plate on the table in front of him.

“Thanks for this.” I just nodded at him.

***

That following week, I would ask Joshua out every time he was at their eatery. I was literally distracting him so that he wouldn’t be able to help his staff. I’d ask him to fix something, like a broken door knob, even though I knew that Tatay and my brother could fix it, or ask him to accompany me when I needed to buy something. All I had to do was cross the street and look for him. All the while, he didn’t complain or reject me. The result was he spent lesser time in his eatery, even if he was supposed to spend his rest day helping out his people.

Having him accompany me so much, people would say we were a couple if they saw us. Like today, we were at the mall and I was trying on dress after dress in Fashion 21. Joshua didn’t complain the whole time. Well, maybe he was too shy to say anything.

“What do you think about this one?” I showed him the gray tank-top that I was wearing.

“It looks good,” he smiled.

“Okay, this is the last one I’ll try on and we can go.”

I paid for the dress and decided to go home. Joshua was silent the entire trip.

“Tired?” I asked.

He smiled. “Yeah,”

I suddenly felt guilty. I intentionally dragged him from his eatery so that he couldn’t help his staff and focus on me instead. But seeing him so tired made my heart twitch.

“Can you pull over?” I asked.

“Huh? What?”

“Pull over.”

He stopped the car.

“Why?”

I grabbed his hand and began to massage it.

“Thank you for accompanying me,” I said while kneading his hand.

“Uh, it’s okay,” he managed to say. His ears had turned beet red.

“Hey! You’re blushing,” I said.

“Huh?” He avoided my gaze and pulled his hand back.

“You’re cute,” I teased him. I pat his head and ran my finger through his hair.

“Enough, Suzy. We’re going home.”

Joshua gave me more reason to fall in love with him. I couldn’t help but think that he might also have feelings for me. I knew some of my actions were a bit obvious. He could have said no if he wanted to but he never did. Either he wanted to spend more time with me or I was really just assuming things.

“Good night, Suzy,” Joshua said. I didn’t notice that we were already in front of my house.

“Good night, Joshua, and thank you.”

“No problem.”

I got out of his car and waved goodbye.

***

“Don’t you feel guilty? The dark circles under his eyes are more visible now. He seems really tired.”

“Well… Actually, I do feel guilty,” I said, confessing the truth to Pamela.

“Aren’t you satisfied with the outcome of your plan? You told me that your regular customers are eating back in your carinderia,” Pamela said while piling some files on her desk.

“Actually, I don’t know what to do Pam. What if I stop doing those schemes? We will just revert back to the old days.”

“Well, did you tell him that you like him?”

“No, how can I say that to him?”

Pamela only rolled her eyes at me. “Then when will you tell him? You should tell him right now how you feel.”

“Easier said than done. And besides if he likes me, he should make his move.”

“Wow!” Pamela slowly clapped her hands. “May I remind you that you planned to make him fall in love with you. How about making the first move?”

I shook my head.

Pamela had a point. Joshua never complained when we went out so telling him the truth about my feelings might not be that big a deal. If I told him how I really felt, I’d find out if he liked me back. If not, I could just move on immediately.

But before that, I had to stop my scheming.

***

I avoided Joshua the weeks after. I didn’t disturb him when he was at their eatery, even though I really wanted to see him. I thought that he should focus on their business else his friend might revoke his ownership. Even when he messaged me, asking if I needed help or company, I turned him down and said I had nothing important to do and that I wanted to rest on my day off.

I also avoided him in the office so he could concentrate on his work. Even during lunch time, I saw to it that we wouldn’t meet.

“Suzy,” someone called out my name. I turned around and saw Joshua running quickly towards me.

“Are you mad at me?” he asked.

I didn’t see this coming. It was like an ambush. But I couldn’t deny that missed him. It was more or less a month since we last talked. Every time he called me, I would always reason out that I was busy.

“Mad? No, why do you ask that?” I continued walking, Joshua trailing behind me.

“We rarely go out anymore and you avoid me here every lunch time.”

I stopped and faced Joshua. I looked straight in his eyes and was startled to see something in them. He looked tired but at the same time there was something else that I couldn’t explain. An emotion?

“I lied,” I finally said.

“What?”

“I just drag you out from that eatery so you can’t focus and your business will fall,” I managed to say. The tension between us was palpable. Joshua just kept on looking at me.

“See, I’m a really bad person. Your carinderia was a threat to our family business and I didn’t want to lose our customers.” I was talking really fast.

A beat passed before he spoke. “I know that,” he whispered.

I was shocked. He knew what I was doing all this time? He knew about my schemes?

“I knew what you were doing and I was a willing victim. I don’t know why but I can’t say no to you.”

Silence fell between us as we looked at each other.

“I like you, Suzy. I really like you.”

A couple of employees passed us by but I didn’t care. I felt like I was floating, Joshua’s words overwhelming my senses.

Joshua liked me. He liked me.

“Hey.” Joshua shook my shoulder.

I breathed in deep. It’s now or never, Suzy. You have to tell him or else you can have a heart attack here.

I looked at him straight in his eyes. “I like you too, Joshua.”

He smiled at me and I had to compose myself and stop myself from giggling silly in front of him. Joshua Ibañez, my long-time crush, liked me back! Geez, the fact kept on repeating in my head. If this were a dream, I didn’t want to wake. Let me sleep forever!

“I mean, I’ve like you even before but I didn’t know how to approach you,” he continued.

“You don’t know how to approach me?”

“Yeah, I felt intimidated whenever I saw you. I didn’t know how to say hi. Good thing you invited me to sit with you for lunch that time. And that gave me hope. Remember when I dropped you off the first time?”

I nodded. Of course I remembered. Tiffany was there. But I didn’t know that I intimidated him. Did I look too uptight?

“I don’t know if you noticed but I was shaking the whole time,” he continued. “I didn’t let you sit next to me because I knew Tiffany would tease me. I was just too nervous.

“You know, the name Eat Now or Never was suggested by my friend. He knows how I am with girls and told me I should make a move before someone else got your attention.” He rubbed his nape and looked at my shyly.

Oh! My Joshua was like a teenage boy, confessing to his crush.

I cleared my throat. “You’re friend is very creative, don’t you think?”

Good thing I took the risk, I told him the truth and he confessed his feelings to me. Not bad at all.

“Do you want some milk tea?” he asked.

I glanced at my watch and I saw that it was snack time. I nodded to Joshua and smiled at him. ☁️

This is an entry to Fictory, Bookbed‘s Fic Fest, in which participants write a fic based on a prompt. Three winners and the Crowd Favorite (by hits and shares) will receive prizes. If you enjoyed this story, share it or leave a comment below. Remember to add #BookbedFictory!
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