"You're leaving again?"
I close my eyes and run my hand through my hair. On such short notice, too.
"I have to, Em," says Drew before some muffled yelling appears in the background, followed by static. "That factory was a really crucial asset to us, and that fire has put us all in a bad state, considering the damage costs. I have to see for myself how bad it really is before putting the funds out, you know.”
I sigh and relent. “Just… come back home soon, okay?”
“It’ll be a quick week, I promise you,” he says, and I can imagine him smiling from the other side of the line. “I’ll treat you to a nice dinner and some ice cream once I get back, all right?”
“Yeah, sure, I guess.”
I hang up before he can say anything else and have become tempted to just throw the damn phone across the room. Instead, I fall face-first onto the wooden desk with my arms sprawled beneath my head to shield my fall and release an internal groan despite looking like a maniac right now.
Izzy, who was busy texting presumably Louis Castro earlier, has looked up and shakes her head at me.
“How can you stand being around someone like that, seriously?”
I frown. “What do you mean?”
“You know, someone who goes around a lot. You don’t know what he might do while you’re not with him.”
“Well, it’s not like I can monitor him all the time—I don’t wanna be that type of girlfriend. And you know I can say the same about your new man, right?”
“I wish I can say he’s my man, but we haven’t gone on that date yet." She winks at me then turns back to her phone. "But he will be after tomorrow. Well, if everything goes well, that is. Speaking of dates..." She lifts her head to glare at me. "With Cam again? Really?"
"It's just coffee, Iz," I say, sighing. "He says he wants to show me something, though."
"As long as it's not his dick, I'm fine with that."
She raises her hand up in defense. "What? As much as I prefer Cam over Drew, you can't be cheating on your current boyfriend no matter how much I hate him. That's just not cool, dude." She sets her phone down on the couch and walks over to where I'm sitting. "Just keep your eyes peeled, Emma. And don't let your guard down. Love and romance is a dangerous trip that goes through impassable treks through mountains and forests, death-defying dives to the bottom of the seas and there's a lot of chances that you may die and give up along the way, but when you reach the end of the road, it's the best fucking feeling ever—more than getting the most expensive spa treatment from that place in downtown."
"Wise words, Izzy, but I'm over it. Cam and I... we were both young, Iz, and we didn't know any better. He knew I wanted more than just the boring little town life I was living. If he really did love me, he wouldn't have let me go so willingly."
"Don't you ever think that he might've done that because he thought he didn't deserve you? Like, maybe he let you go because he felt he was the one weighing you down, preventing you from doing all of that." When I turn to glare at her, she shrugs. "I don't know. It's possible. He looks like somewhat of a bad boy in the outside, but he's a real good guy on the inside and you know that. If I were you, I would've stayed."
With that, she turns around and heads towards the kitchen, her footsteps are soon followed by the sounds of clinking glasses, probably fetching herself a glass of water or coffee or something.
I shake my head even when she can’t see me doing it. She has been trying to change my mind about the whole break-up for ages, but this new but strange ‘theory’ of hers has yet to be heard until today. I refuse to believe it, though; I don’t think Cam is the kind of person who can come up with such thoughts, mostly because he’s been nothing but a reckless teenager ever since I’ve met him, until recently, and to me, it looks like he takes most things for granted. I don’t know how he felt after our break-up, but I don’t think he took it as harshly as I hoped he would.
As much as I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, none of it matters anymore. I have a boyfriend and I do not intend on cheating on him, and for the most part, I’m happy with my current state in life. Sure everything went to shit when I was first fired from my job, but it has given me a chance to return to my true passion, and things don’t seem too depressing anymore. I’m glad that Cam and I get to reconnect a bit, maybe talk about things later when we meet but friends are all we’ll ever be from now on, and I intend to keep it that way.
Regardless, I’m not going to meet him while still in the same clothes I slept in with last night, so I head to my bedroom first to grab some fresh clothes then to the bathroom to take a quick shower. When I step out after finishing, Izzy’s blowing on the surface of the brown-colored liquid in the mug she’s holding in her hands, still in her pajamas while watching re-runs of America’s Next Top Model on television. She merely glances in my direction and I ignore her while moving to grab my purse and phone, wrapping a scarf around my neck then move to the front door to put a pair of boots on and grab my coat.
“Don’t miss me too long,” I say, but she rolls her eyes and glares at me.
“Bitch, if you decide to stay over at his place for another night, I’ll be happy for you, but still.” She shrugs. “And if you do choose to ignore my advice, don’t forget to use protection.”
I make sure to slam the door on my way out, but once I turn around to face the full force of nature and the outdoors again, I feel like slapping myself all over again. Why am I still doing this? Why am I still so willing to agree to a meet-up with my ex-boyfriend just as my current significant other decides to leave the country for another week. If Drew ever finds out about this, he’ll think I’m cheating on him or whatever and I don’t want that because I don’t want to ruin what we have now.
So why the fuck am I still doing this?
There’s no turning back now, I say as I wrap my coat tighter around myself and head to the streets, approaching the nearest bus stop.
I think it’s safe to say I have grown a slight paranoia to taxis now. Even though the chances of landing the same weird taxi I did a week ago are microscopic, it still exists and the damn thing is probably roaming around town still, and I don’t dare myself to take that risk. Besides, it’s still not proven yet that the taxi really did take me to where I needed to be—why would I need to be at Cam’s place? Just so that we can stay in contact again? Or was the only purpose of the whole thing was so that Cam can motivate me to return to writing? I figure that sooner or later, I’ll come back to it anyway, with me being unemployed and all and perhaps desperate for some money, hence taking the risk of restarting my writing career again. Regardless of whether I met Cam that night or not, I don’t think it doesn’t matter.
I finally arrive at Starbucks again at five minutes past ten, but I’m quick to assume he’s not here yet anyway. Still, I enter the store situated at the junction of two roads, and ignoring the fact that it’s always crowded, nothing seems out of the ordinary here. But just as I move one space further up the queue and finally get the chance to order, my phone buzzes. I order my usual latte macchiato and then open the message.
Seat no. 21, far corner to your right ;)
I freeze and turn to my right. There are a bunch of tables, occupied and empty alike, but no Cam. There is, however, a tight corner that blocks my vision from seeing if there're any tables behind it, which leads me to assume that he’s probably there if he knows where I am and tells me to go to a specific seat.
Wait, hold on a sec—he’s already here?
Who is he and what has he done to the Cameron Hood I used to date, get wasted and play beer pong with?
I wait for my order to arrive—I said to make it a takeaway in case I need to get the fuck out of here as fast as possible, and for the sake of general convenience—and once my name is called, I grab the beverage and head over to the corner, taking a slow approach just so that I won’t make a fool of myself if it turns out to be just a broom closet or something. True to my assumptions, however, there are still two tables around that corner, and one of which is occupied by the mysterious man himself, still dressed in fashion smarter than he was in freshman year, sipping on a cup of espresso while typing away in what seems to be a brand-new MacBook.
He has his own MacBook. When the fuck did this happen? In fact, where did he get the money to buy the damn thing in the first place?
In his buttoned-up shirt and jeans, he lifts his head and his eyes light up as soon as they meet mine.
“Oh, hey, Emma!” he greets welcomingly. “Glad you can make it. I take it you were surprised to see me performing last Saturday, judging by the look of awe on your face throughout my entire set. I take that as a compliment by the way.”
“Uh, yeah, kinda,” I admit, taking a seat opposite to him while setting my coffee down. I tuck a strand of loose blonde hair behind my ear and my eyes can’t help but dart to the laptop screen turned away from me, making me curious as to what he wanted to show me. Is it the MacBook, or is there something else? “You know, I think this is the first time you’ve been punctual and showed up on time for… anything, really. You’re literally the tardiest person I’ve ever known, so this comes as a complete surprise to me, not just the fact that you’re out there, on stage, playing music for other people other than yourself, your family and me.”
“Glad to know my record still stands, then,” he says, laughing with amusement. “I think I still hold the record for ‘Most Detentions Earned in a Year’ back at our old high school, too. It’s a good change, I hope?”
“Oh, definitely,” I say, smiling. “So, what changed? And why now?”
He shrugs. “I guess I feel like it’s time to change—I can’t be eighteen forever, you know? And besides, being the only man left in the family, I had to start growing up, you know? I have to take care of my little sister, of my mother… She still asks about how you’re doing, by the way, every time we speak on the phone. Wants you to visit her some time before her condition gets worse.”
I immediately catch on to the sudden change in mood as soon as he mentions his mother, and I can’t help but start to feel a little sorrow as well. Like me, he only has his mother after his father abandoned their family, which was the cause of him quitting music in the first place. The children, namely Cam and his sister, followed their mother of course, especially since Cam hates his father just as much as his mother does now. Unfortunately, the poor woman was diagnosed with breast cancer just a little over five years ago and has been taking chemotherapy ever since, but that means Cam has to take care of his sister most of the time while their mother continues taking treatment for her terminal disease.
I’m glad to know that he has finally taken things more seriously now—a big leap from his former party-loving, alcohol-drinking, teenage self who would throw responsibilities out of the window without a second thought. It was worse during the first few months after his father left and he would go out and get drunk literally every single day and would come to school at about lunchtime, still hungover, only to go out drinking again later that night. Other times he would just skip school and lock himself in his room. That’s when I usually had to visit him and accompany him for hours while trying to make him stop from drinking his problems away. Sometimes he would get mad and throw his bottle across the room, spilling the beer everywhere on the carpet, and sometimes I would be afraid that he might hurt me if I tried to stop him. It never happened, though—instead, he would realize how bad he fucked up and would actually stop, just to hold me and tell me that he was okay, that he’d stop.
Eventually, he got better. By the time we left for college, he was almost back to his normal self again. And now, he looks like he’s a thousand times better than he was at his lowest moment, right after his parents divorced and when his mother was first diagnosed with her disease. He’s brave enough to play music for other people, for fuck’s sake.
I add a mental note for myself to call his mother someday. She and my mother are quite close friends, too, and they often gush about how they’ll be in-laws someday when Cam and I would get married. We just awkwardly laughed it off back then and I would be conflicted about how the burden they placed on our shoulders, like we really had to get married otherwise it would disappoint both our mothers. Now, we can’t even laugh about it at all because it’s never gonna happen anyway.
“She’s a strong woman, Cam,” I say, placing a comforting hand on his. He lifts his eyes to look at me with an appreciative look—the exact same look he gives me every time I stopped by his place to make sure he was okay after he didn’t show up at school. God, it takes me back. “Other than my own mother, she’s the next best thing for a real-life hero—in my opinion, at least. I think she’s everyone’s hero, if they know what she has to go through.”
“Yeah, she is. Same goes to yours, too,” he replies with a sad tone and offers me a sad smile. I know what he’s referring to and I’m doing everything I can to not remember back to my own share of sorrows, which happened far earlier than Cam’s did. We were just friends when it happened, but just like how I offered him solace when he was at his lowest, he did the same for me too. I can still remember him holding me in his arms, rubbing my back as I cried my fucking eyeballs out, letting me cry for as long as I needed.
I think that’s the other moment when I realize I’ve fallen in love with him. This was the first intimate moment we shared together, and then it was the song that sealed the deal and I decided he was the one.
Maybe it’s inevitable for both of us to stay in each other’s lives, no matter how far apart we’ve grown from each other since the break-up. How could it not—we’ve been through so much, shared too many memories with each other and more than I can count until it’s practically impossible to forget them all so easily in just a blink of an eye.
“But,” he then begins, shaking his head as he turns his attention back to the brightened screen, occasionally glancing at me, “that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about.”
He then reaches into the backpack leaning against the wall beside him and takes out a pair of earphones, plugged it into his computer then offered me one. With slight reluctance, I plug the earbud into one of my ears, waiting as he clicks on a few buttons on his keyboard, then the music starts playing.
It’s different from the one I heard during his opening set at the festival, but it’s still a catchy EDM tune nonetheless. It reminds me a little of songs from Alan Walker and The Chainsmokers, which are in fact my favorite EDM artists, and when it reaches the one minute mark, I can’t help but move my body along with the beat, ignoring Cam’s amused stare at me.
“I take it that it’s good?” he asks when the song ends and I take the earphone off.
“Somehow, I refuse to believe you made something like that.”
He feigns a look of offense to me. “That was uncalled for, madame. How dare you underestimate the extent of my abilities.” We both end up cracking up laughing before he puts on a more serious face with some hope lighting up his hazel eyes. “No, but seriously though, do you think it’s decent enough?”
“Decent enough? That shit can top charts all over the world. It’ll be the next big thing since ‘Roses’ and ‘Faded’, I bet.”
“Really?” He raises his eyebrows in surprise, apparently not expecting a compliment from me. “Oh, c’mon, you’re exaggerating.”
“Well, maybe, or maybe it’s because I’m biased,” I say jokingly. “But it really is good. Like, where did you learn to make songs like that? I know you can play guitar, but I didn’t know you can make songs like that.”
He shrugs again. “Ah, you know. Started small at first but I guess practice does make perfect. Though I have to admit, I learn most of the stuff I do from tutorials on YouTube and then started experimenting on my own. And I’m proud to say that this ‘experimentation’ has produced decent-quality results and I did not end up half-dead on the streets, homeless and begging for money just to get another whiff of cocaine. That is not the kind of experimentation I would want to try, ever.”
I laugh again. I miss these old times. I don’t even remember why I was going to regret meeting him today at all.
"Have you ever tried, like, hiring a manager or something?" I ask. "Or maybe approach a label company, or post this stuff on YouTube? Even talentless hacks like Justin Bieber can make it big off of YouTube, and you clearly have bucket loads of talent."
Humble as he is, he shakes his head. "I've put some stuff on SoundCloud, if that helps. I only have, like, one video on YouTube, with only twelve views and one like in over three months. One of those twelve views happen to be Louis, that's why I was able to land a gig as his opening act last Saturday."
"He didn't give a shout-out or anything?" If he didn't, then what a dick.
"He did, but nobody cares. I only got to a hundred after that performance, but... I don't know. I just don't know if it'll work, Emma."
"It can, only if you believe it can." I touch his hand. "Look—you gave me this advice not too long ago, and I'm gonna give you the exact same advice; where the hell is the Cam I used to know? The guy who loves taking risks, the guy who just wants to see everyone around him happy? But if you can't even make yourself happy, then how are you going to do that?"
"Em, that's not the same advice I gave you."
"Okay, whatever. Point is, you have to at least try. Market yourself in social media. Showcase what you can do anywhere you can. You're better off than I am right now—you already have the finished product. You just need someone to help you sell it."
He scratches his head, still not convinced. "I don't know. Em, it's difficult to find success in this industry. A new artist is born every single second, not to mention the people sitting perfectly still at the top of the charts. It's pretty much impossible unless you have a pretty face—I mean, isn't that why Bieber got famous?"
I scoff. His words have some truth in it—not just the Bieber part, but superstars are literally superstars and their fame and wealth are just mind-blowing sometimes. I never thought people can even earn or be worth that much—and I hate the general idea of how much someone is worth, like their lives can be traded for money once taken—but then it makes me feel a lot more worthless than I probably am. It’s like they’re giving out a statement to the world how their lives are more important than ours, and how we can never reach to their level of importance or popularity.
This is why we never really wanted to identify ourselves to a specific group in high school. Izzy, Cam, the others and myself… We never really cared about the whole popularity chart the other students established. It’s like a never-ending race, and once the most popular person graduates from school, it’s like a real-life Hunger Games as people fight to be the king or queen of the school, except with fewer deaths and poison and twisted love stories. We’re just normal people who wanted to hang out and be friends with people, survive high school and be the best we could’ve been, without the burden of having everybody’s eyes on you, either out of admiration or jealousy.
“But you’re a new artist, too, aren’t you?” I question. “And who says you don’t have a pretty face?”
“Oh—I meant ‘pretty’ as in ‘looks like a whiny bitch with a pre-pubescent voice that for some reason, a lot of girls adore.’ If you’d said ‘hot,’ then maybe, but I’m definitely not ‘pretty.’”
I roll my eyes. Men and their egos. Humble as he is, he still can’t get rid of his arrogance “My point is, just try. It doesn’t hurt to try. We’ve both got nothing to lose with our respective—uh, how do you say it—‘business ventures,’ and I’ve given it a shot. We probably won’t see the results until we get there, but how will we ever get anywhere if we’ve never even tried?”
He stays silent this time, apparently taking my words into thought as his eyes divert themselves to his half-empty cup. He finishes the last of its contents, wincing at the strong bitterness of the liquid then looks at his watch.
“Sorry, I gotta go—I have a meeting with someone in half an hour and it takes me at least twenty minutes to get there, so I better leave now.”
He stands up and I follow, as he packs his laptop and the rest of his stuff back into his backpack, we stand there for an awkward moment before his arms start to reach over and around my waist, pulling me into a hug. Stiff at first, I nearly cringe at how awkward it is between us—how awkward the ‘friendly’ hug is when all I can remember is being pulled into one of his comforting, loving embraces, one of the things I’ve missed since we’ve been apart. Regardless, I soon return the hug, with my arms wrapping around his neck and I rest my head on his shoulder for a few short seconds.
We pull away, smile and, after making sure we’ve left nothing behind, we head towards the exit. I notice other people staring at us as we leave, but I choose to ignore them and finish my own cup of coffee. The barista I recognize shoots me a surprised but knowing glare—I think many of them probably think we’re actually dating than just exes who happen to be good, old friends.
“I’ll think about it, too,” he says once we’re outside, turning to me with a newfound look of hope glowing in his eyes. “I gotta find some way to pay for Mom’s medical bills than to just depend on minimum wage, huh?”
“Still working at McDonald's’, I see?”
“Bartender at McGee’s, actually, but your guess wasn’t too far and they still pay me almost the same amount; the only good thing that comes from it is that my dignity remains intact. Consider it a little upgrade, and if this whole music thing works out…” He runs his hand through his short hair. “Then I’ll be as happy as I was to know that I passed the grade.”
I shake my head but the smile is still there. I don’t think he has ever failed to turn my frown upside down since the day we knew each other. “You really are something, aren’t you?”722Please respect copyright.ＰＥＮＡＮＡGvxCwL5Q9L
He has started walking towards the other direction but turns around after hearing my voice and smirks. “I mean, isn’t that why you agreed to date me in the first place?"ns22.214.171.124da2