“Come and get this, Lexi!” JP shouted as he and Hans ran away with my bag. They knew I’d run after them, and they knew I hate it when they call me Lexi. It made me feel like a dog, because it sounds like a pet name.
This time, I didn’t chase them. I was with Leo, and that was all that mattered to me at that time. He was holding my hand tightly but gently at the same time as we walked home from school. He was quiet again. I laughed to myself; of course he’s always quiet. When I complain about his silence, he’d defend himself by saying it’s his nature to be quiet. I would just laugh and shrug it off back then.
I asked him earlier if something’s wrong, and as always too, he said nothing. But it seems like something’s really bothering him.
We reached the boarding house where we and the rest of our friends stayed. JP, Hans, Bianca, Fiona, RJ, Ela, Chris, GJ and Lem, and so many others stayed with us there. It was a lucky day for all of us, when our school allowed students to stay in one dorm. And it was the perfect place for us. The boarding house was affordable, near the school and had rooms to accommodate the whole gang. Besides, it didn’t mind public display of affection.
Inside, JP was playing with the contents of my bag and Hans was with Bianca. Their relationship was official and blessed by their parents, thank God. Nobody in our circle of friends thought they’d somehow end up together, but everybody was hoping.
“Hey, JP, give it back,” Leo said, announcing our entrance. Everyone saw us hold hands before, so our intertwined hands weren’t really news to them.
JP stuck his tongue out, childish as always, but nonetheless gave my bag back anyway. Leo took it from him and led the way to my room, which I share with Bianca and Fiona.
He opened the lights and I caught sight of my room, our personal piece of heaven. There stood a double-decked bed and sofa bed. I slept in the lower bunk, Bianca above me, and Fiona occupied the sofa bed. A dresser with a mirror, a huge cabinet for the three of us, a bookshelf containing our collection of books and my compositions, and a computer also crammed inside the room. A sliding window sheds light to the room at day time.
“Rest,” Leo commanded and I obliged for I knew better than to argue.
I sat on my bed and took off my shoes as Leo placed our bags carefully to the floor, where he sat too. I stared at him and he stared back at me. We were comfortable with that, just gazing at each other without actually saying anything.
Like Bianca and Hans, our relationship was blessed by our parents. But unlike them, we weren’t actually official. We wouldn’t call ourselves boyfriend and girlfriend. We just knew we love each other and got into an agreement that we belong to each other without really committing ourselves to each other. It’s simple yet complicated. We’re together with or without the commitment anyway. The feeling’s just mutual and we both knew that.
“Leo,” I said and reached for his face. I touched his cheek and he closed his eyes.
“Nothing,” I said and it was true. I just want to say his name.
“Alexa…” It was his turn to call me.
I didn’t get the chance to answer; JP, Hans and Bianca entered the room. Leo opened his eyes.
“I’m gonna have Alexa, Lexi, Lexi…” JP started to sing in a mock voice. “Alexa is mine…”
I knew it was a joke, but it got me curious anyway. I was used to their pranks. Leo didn’t seem to take it as a joke.
“Will you stop?” Leo said simply.
JP didn’t listen and changed the lyrics. “Leo’s gonna have Americans… And I’m gonna have Lexi…”
“Is it so hard to just shut up?” Leo said, rising. I held his hand, knowing he was angry, and I was worried why. He usually laughed along with JP and Hans.
“Didn’t you tell her?” Bianca asked Leo.
Now, they’d lost me. What are they talking about?
Leo looked at them meaningfully and somehow they understood something I didn’t know. Leo hardly kept secrets from me, and neither do I to him. I looked at them, totally lost. Then JP, Hans and Bianca started towards the door. I couldn’t tell their exact looks, but they looked almost sad.
Then before he left, Hans turned and said. “We’re sorry. I though you knew.” And I knew he was talking to me. Then he turned to Leo. “Why didn’t you just tell her?” And then he left.
I was lost. What are they saying? Why didn’t he tell me what? Leo looked at me as if I was a valuable treasure. He always looks at me like that, except that at that time, he looked at me as if I was a valuable treasure about to be lost by my owner. Confusion filled his stare.
“Serra Alexandra,” he said, and I flinched. I realized I was holding his hand too tightly. My name always sounds so perfect when he’s the one who voices it out. He sat beside me and tucked my hair behind my ear gently. Then he touched my cheek, and even though that touch was very familiar, I blushed.
“Leo Kael,” I said, and closed my eyes. I wanted to ask lots of questions, but the questions seemed to hide away somewhere inside my brain. His face was close to mine, and I couldn’t think straight. I can fell his warm breath washing over my face.
“I love you,” he whispered and my heart skipped a beat and started thumping. Then as if it wasn’t enough, I felt his lips against mine and suddenly my hand was on his neck. His hands were on my back, and before I knew it, I was kissing him back. It seemed like forever.
When we broke apart, I finally found my voice.
“What are they saying? What didn’t you tell me?” I asked. It was probably something bad, but I tried to be calm.
Leo took a deep breath then looked at me straight in the eyes. “You know about my dad’s work, right?” he asked, I nodded. “A company in the U.S. offered him a job. My dad accepted.”
Of course, Leo’s dad was a famed engineer-slash-doctor-slash-architect. Who wouldn’t offer him a job? But Leo’s words seemed incoherent. I knew where the conversation was going, but I didn’t want to hear it.
Leo continued. “We’re leaving for New York on Sunday,” he finished. I heard the word ‘Sunday’ and knew I was wrong. It wasn’t just something bad, it was the worst. My world fell.
The world rushed to me all at once, all the memories of Leo and I together rushed past in my head. The first time he said he likes me, the first time we held hands, the first time we both admitted we love each other, our first kiss, and so many other memories swam around my head, as if they were afraid to be forgotten.
I felt a hand on my cheek and I got back to the present.
“Alexa, please respond. You’re making me worried,” Leo whispered.
I wanted to, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t make sense of anything. New York? Sunday? Leo?
“What— why— Leo, are you— please,” I stammered and looked down. My eyes were filled with tears, and I didn’t want him to see the tears that I refused to let go.
“Ssshhh, Alexa,” he said and kissed the top of my head. He knew me very well, and knew I was on the verge of tears.
“Why didn’t you tell me? Sunday is two days away!”
“I knew this would happen, and I knew you’d cry. I cannot bear to see that, and I swore to God I’d never live to see the day that you’d cry because of me. You know that,” he said. It was a rough excuse, but I felt the sincerity in his words.
“So you’d rather leave me clueless, than see me cry with the truth?” I demanded. I looked up and saw solemn sadness in his eyes.
“That’s not it. I love you so much, and I don’t want to hurt you. I was thinking, no— almost hoping, that if I left without telling you, you’d be so angry with me, and you’ll find comfort in someone else. That way, somehow, you’ll forget about me! I’d rather see you happy with somebody else than crying and lonely, waiting for me to come back!” Leo said, his voice slightly rising.
“Forget about you? How can you possibly think of such a thing?” I said and I remembered the time when I used to try to take my life back in our freshmen year. Leo seemed just as protective even then. This time, he wasn’t protecting me from the blade; he was shielding me from the truth.
“Don’t you care about what I think?” I asked.
“Of course I do. I care about you.”
“Why are you hurting me?” I asked.
Leo’s eyes widened and then he pulled me into an embrace. As always, his arms and his body felt warm and inviting, I felt home, I knew where I belong. Except that home was suddenly trying to keep me out. Back then, my heart always finds a safe and peaceful refuge in his arms. Right now, it just left me with questions.
“Please, Alexa, I’m not hurting you. I don’t want to,” he whispered in my ear, and I suddenly realized that he was afraid to hurt me.
I pushed him away.
“You are hurting me! What am I to you, Leo?” I asked, tears welling up again. I blinked to wash them away.
“You’re everything to me, Alexa! But I just have to let you go. We both just have to let go. The truth hurts me too, Alexa, sometimes I just want to melt into your stories with happy endings. I wish we could just be your characters and end up together forever!”
That was true; all of my compositions had happy endings.
“But we’re not kids, and we have to accept that letting go is the easiest way for us now. I’ve tried many times to argue about it to my dad, but he thinks it’s the best. And he said we’re young and all that. He said it’s just infatuation, but I know I love you.”
The truth was before my eyes, and it shocked me. He was everything to me too, but I have to let him go. We weren’t kids, and reality is harsh and sometimes it doesn’t have happy endings.
And now the tears refused to be stopped, they fell and I didn’t bother to wipe them.
“Will you come back?” I asked and I dreaded the answer.
“I don’t know,” he said. Then he embraced me again. The End seemed to linger near, and I wanted to maximize our time together.
“Please stop crying,” he pleaded. And stop I did.
“Will you stay with me until tomorrow?” I asked. If he was leaving on Sunday, I’d have him the whole Saturday.
“I’m afraid I can’t,” he said, and my heart was struck with lightning. My world sank lower. “I’m leaving tonight.”
So tonight was The End. I should’ve known. I broke free from our embrace and looked at him. My eyes traveled from his raven-black hair, to his nose, to his lips, then to his liquid eyes, to every fine feature of the boy I love. I was trying to memorize his face, though I already did. I tried to remember the sound of his voice, and I knew I was terrified to forget even a single detail of him. I was afraid to forget him.
“Do you love me?” I managed to ask.
“Yes.” His answer was solid, though everything around me was dissolving slowly. I tried to hold on to the truth of his words.
He does love me.
“I guess this is goodbye,” Leo said, and the finality in his voice told me it was The End. “Don’t do anything stupid when I’m gone, okay?”
Don’t do anything stupid. Great piece of advice, I wanted to tell him.
But everything I see was starting to slide out of focus. I wanted to run away from everything, but everything was already slipping out of my grip.
Leo stood up and I did too. He enveloped me in the tightest hug, and he pressed his lips lightly to mine. Like our first kiss, it was full of anxiety, full of longing. But that kiss, unlike the first one, marked an end, not a beginning.
“I’ll love you forever,” I promised in a trembling voice. A single tear fell, just one, then nothing else. Leo wiped it away. Then he took his bag.
“Take care, Alexa.”
Then my world, my life, Leo, walked towards the door. He hesitated, and then held the knob. He opened the door, and I blinked.
He was gone.
I expected him to come back, but he didn’t. I stared blankly at the door, wanting to run after him, and tell him that I can’t live without him. But it wouldn’t do any better. Doing that would just make it harder for me to let go. Harder for us to let go.
And so I stayed in my room. Minutes, which seemed like hours, for time seemed to pass unevenly for me, since he left, Fiona and Bianca entered the room with tissues and ice cream.
Ice cream? Oh, of course. They wanted to comfort me. But I didn’t want to be comforted. I want his memory to stay in my heart. Forever.
I miss him already.