“Of course, it means something to you,” Tristan says. “You’re a girl.” I must look even more confused because Tristan takes a deep breath, walks towards me behind the counter and refills my glass.
“Look, Kit. He’s a guy. Even if he tells you how much he likes you, that doesn’t mean he’s thinking about you every minute of every day. And just to be clear, if he does think about you, that line doesn’t guarantee that he’s thinking of taking whatever it is you guys have into a relationship, the kind that Hallmark cards are printed for, the kind that involves meeting the parents, you know, those things.”
Aside from his sense of humor, this brutal honesty is probably why Tristan and I remained friends all these years. He knows when to pat me on the back, when to fluff my ego and when to break my rose-colored glasses. I sip my wine, prompting him to talk more. I do need a guy’s perspective on this. While Tristan and Matthew are two, very different guys, they are both straight men. Biologically speaking, at least, they are probably wired the same.
“Not until he explicitly asks you to be his girlfriend, don’t assume,” he adds. “It’s safer and saner that way. Or…”
He hesitates for a while. “Or what?” I prod.
“Or maybe you both just needed an outlet,” he says, measuring his words carefully. “You may not want revenge but obviously, you need closure. And I think he needs an ego-booster.”
“You think I boost his ego?”
He sighs. “You may not be aware of this but your eyes glaze over when you talk about him,” Tristan explains. “Normally, I don’t notice these things but I’ve known you a long time so yeah, I notice.
“It’s like the look you get when I give you free food. He calls you when he’s all fucked up. You make him feel better. Honestly, I don’t blame him for needing that kind of reassurance because it’s nice, but that doesn’t mean he’s in love with you or something. The smart thing to do is to get out now while you still can. After all, this is the second time the same asshole is mistreating you.”
I sit there, probably looking more dumbfounded than ever. I take a sip of my red wine. Tristan shrugs and walks to the back kitchen, probably to get some food so my eyes will glaze over. Honestly, I understand perfectly what he means. It’s the most logical explanation to what has been going on between Matthew and me in the last few months.
Weird as it may sound, Matthew also makes me happy. In a semi-awful kind of way. The kind that makes you wonder if you’re some sort of a masochist because you want the same kind of emotional distress and thrill over and over again. I can’t quite explain the kind of euphoria I get when I’m with him, but it’s there, and I cling onto it for as long as I can.
Maybe it started with thoughts of revenge—because I wanted to get back at him for the sparkle I lost in college. I wanted to make him feel how he had made me feel when I waited for him at the university chapel for hours, after I had made him choose between Bridgette and me weeks after The Literati party.
He had chosen her. Obviously. But it wasn’t so clear to me. It was only when he didn’t show up and cut our communication altogether that I understood that I had never been his choice. Even then, I wasn’t an option.
I had carried this emotional scar since then. I tried hiding it, walking away from it and erasing it to the point that I even turned my back on my degree and chose to be a graphic designer because every time I try to write, I write about him. Since then, I only realize now, my decisions can be traced to a particular emotional stigma.
At first, I was curious to see what had become of the guy I once idolized and loved in secret. I also wanted him to see what had become of me. But the plan backfired when I realized he is not the asshole I groomed him to be in head.
When the hate ended, compassion set in. I start rationalizing that maybe he did want to reach out after all these years, after all, he has been keeping tabs. Maybe he was afraid that I would brush him off, knowing full well how he made me feel after ignoring all the text messages and emails I sent all those years ago asking for an explanation.
When science ends, faith begins. And just then, I surprise myself that a sliver of faith has survived inside of me somehow.
“He makes me happy, Tristan,” I say when my friend returns with a plate of what looks like carbonara. “Obviously, he’s still hung up on the same girl. Back then, I gave him an ultimatum and it backfired on me. Almost ruined me, too bad you weren’t here in the Philippines when it all exploded in my face.
“But I am in love with him, Tristan. Or maybe I am in love with the memory of him or the idea of what he used to be, but whatever it is, he makes me happy.
“I feel more alive now that I had ever been all these years, you know,” I continue. “It’s weird but I don’t want to burst that bubble yet. I am deathly scared it could break any time now. That’s why I couldn’t ask where I stand in the same picture all over again. So maybe for now, I’ll just settle for whatever he can give me. I just really need this pixie dust a while longer, okay?”
Tristan hands me a fork and we dive into a shared plate of carbonara. He knows I never mix my pasta on a plate, regardless of the recipe and how it was cooked. I pick on the large bacon bits on top and we eat in silence for a while.
“You really like him, don’t you?” Tristan asks after I take a few bites. I nodded and he sighed.
“Just be careful this time, okay?” he continues. “I wasn’t here when the college thing happened, but I’ve seen you get hurt and cry over guys. I just can’t bear to see you go through the same thing twice. It changes you. And I don’t want to lose you.”
Tristan was already in the U.S. when the whole Matthew thing happened. And somehow, I am glad that he had not witnessed how it all unraveled. I was a fucking mess that I almost failed in two of my courses. He only knew the bits and pieces I carefully decided to share with him. If only he had known, maybe more parts of me had survived. These issues may sound pathetic for a grown woman but when you’re 18, you feel like you’re never going to get over it. To my surprise, some girls never do.
And this is the reason why I am grateful for Tristan’s friendship. Unlike in Matthew’s world, I know very well where I stand in Tristan’s world. He knows that it has always been and always will be Matthew.
To be continued…