“Sabrina, where are you going?” I heard mom called out when I was about to unlock the gate of my house. “I thought Lee was supposed to come here to fetch you?”
I finally turned to mom smilingly as soon as I was outside of the gate. “That’s okay, mom. I’m used to coming to his house, you know that. We’re neighbours, aren’t we?”
Mom crossed her arms on my chest. “More than just neighbours.” Mom snorted. “You know, Lee is a guy. You should let him fetch you at your door.”
I was too over the moon to pay any heed to mom’s unsatisfied words. Instead, I kept on walking toward the house opposite mine into its gate that was left ajar. I looked at the blue roof that sheltered the house almost glimmered at the touch of the bright sunlight of the afternoon. The sun was still soaring to its highest height in the blue sky, casting a slight shadow behind the azalea bushes that embellished the house garden. I had always admired Mrs. James’ garden, which was a paradise of the most beautiful flowers I had ever seen. The colourful hues of the morning glory, the hibiscuses, the roses, the daisies and also the white water lilies blended harmoniously together among the soothing scenery of the garden. I inhaled the air that was perfumed with the sweet scent of the flowers all around me, as I walked toward the closed door.
I gave a few knocks as I took another deep breath. The fresh scent of the flowers from the garden somehow made the storm of anxiety within me slightly ebbed. But just when the door was opening with a creak, I felt my heartbeat quickened again, as if losing control. I smiled my best smile. “Lee, I…!” I felt that I could not go on at the sight of the girl who stood before me. I felt that my rising heart finally came to the deepest downfall to find Heidi standing there in the doorway with a sharp stare shot at me.
“What do you want, Sabrina?” Heidi groaned as she folded her arms on her chest.
“What—what are you doing here?” I finally found my voice, overwhelmed with complete shock.
“What am I doing here?” Heidi gave a mocking laugh as if I just asked the stupidest question. “Well, you can say that it’s just a little secret between Lee and me. Oh—didn’t you know?” Heidi smirked at my clueless face. “Lee is going to take me out to make up to me for breaking his promise to come to my party last night. Oh—didn’t he tell you? I mean, weren’t you guys supposed to be best friends?” She said sarcastically.
“Sabrina!” Just then, I saw Lee calling out from above Heidi’s shoulder with a concerned expression. “Sabrina, wait!” I quickly looked away despairingly from him before I began to walk off.
“Sabrina, please wait!” I kept on walking as fast as I could. I could feel my heart breaking piece by piece at every step I took—at every urgent call of his.
“Sabrina, please let me explain!” He finally grabbed hold of my arm as soon as I reached the front gate of his house.
“There’s no need for explanation! I just saw it before my very eyes!” I pulled my arm fiercely away from his. I stared at him as I felt tears gathering in my eyes. “I thought I could trust you. I thought we were friends! But we never were—never were we more than friends!”
“But Sabrina, it’s not what you think it is! It’s…!”
“Then what is it? I just saw her doing God knows what at your house, Lee! I should’ve known that you’ve always been interested in her. I know no guy who’s not interested in her—she’s popular, she’s beautiful…!”
“That’s nonsense, Sabrina! She may be popular or beautiful or whatever but she’s not you! Sabrina, listen to me!”
“Stop it, Lee! Stop it! I don’t want to hear anything from you—no more! And I don’t want to see your face ever again!” I voiced out in deep frustration.
“Sabrina, please, I beg you to listen to me…!”
“Let me go now!” I yelled. I realised that I had never had my heart so broken before nor had I ever cried so hard. “All this while I’ve been nothing but a fool to you, haven’t I, Lee? How could you do this to me? All the signs….” I stared at him in the haziness of tears in my eyes. “… I guess I’ve misread them.”
“That’s not true, Sabrina! The kiss…!”
“… is a mistake—a huge mistake!” I continued in exasperation.
“A mistake?” Lee stared at me in wild disbelief. “Sabrina, it’s not…!”
“Don’t deny it, Lee. You know it from the very beginning! And I wonder if you’ve planned all this all along with Heidi…!”
“Sabrina, how can you say that?” His voice raised with his hazel eyes opened wide. The tenderness in his eyes faded away instantly. “How can you simply just lose faith in me just like that? I thought we promised each other to always trust in each other. You know me, Sabrina, You know you do.”
I stared at him. “No. No, I’m afraid I don’t—not anymore.” I shook my head slowly as I walked away from there, with pieces of my shattered heart silently tracing the trail of emptiness I was about to tread upon ahead.
That very night, as if I had not had enough misery already, I found out from mom that Lee and his family were coming over to have dinner with us. To make the matters even worse, he happened to sit just across the dinner table from me. I did not bother to even try to meet his stare as I stared hard on mom’s home-made Bolognese spaghetti as if it was a matter of life and death if I did not. I kept forking the greasy spaghetti on my mom’s china plate without even intending to eat it. I did not feel like eating at all. I lost my appetite and I remember crying my heart out inside my locked room after what had happened between Lee and me just this morning. The sight of Heidi standing in his doorway as if it was the most natural thing on earth wearied my broken heart very much—even more weary at the thought of him just sitting in front of me, staring at me with the most meaningful look.
“Sabrina, please stop poking and playing with your food.” Mom stared at me sharply. “You’re not a child anymore.”
I was still bowing my head, heedless to her every single word.
“Sabrina, Lee, you two seem unusually quiet tonight.” Mrs. James commented observantly. She threw an astonished look at both of us, particularly at Lee while she spooned strings of the reddish-yellow spaghetti into her mouth. “Anything wrong?”
“Yes, very unusual, indeed. I mean, you two have always been chatty with each other. It’s a weird scenario since just the other night on Sabrina’s birthday party….” I saw Darren grinning at the corner of my eye.
“Will you shut up, Darren?” Lee suddenly raised his voice with a frown. “Sorry.” He slowly said at Mrs. James’ warning stare.
I knew I could not stand the intensity of Lee’s gaze on me. I knew that no mater what, it would not be easy for me to avoid him as I thought it would be. He was still my neighbour and my classmate. But at least, I had to make an effort…. “Um… the spaghetti is delicious, mom.” I finally rose from my seat.
“But you didn’t finish it.” Mom stared.
“Oh—I will. I mean, after I’ve finished washing the dishes.” I excused myself politely, ignoring Lee’s stare as I quickened my way toward the kitchen.
I breathed a sigh of relief as soon as I found myself standing behind the sink.
“There’s not much dishes to wash, though….” I almost leaped at the sound of Lee. I turned around and saw him standing beside the sink. His eyes glanced fleetingly at the clean, empty sink before me. “In fact, there’s none.” He added as he looked up at me.
I looked away. For the first time, I wish that he had never been my neighbour. I wish our houses were not near each others’. I wish that I had never chatted to him. I wish that I had never met him. I wish I never knew him. I wish I could turn back the time. I wish he had never done all those things: his presence in my afternoon walks… the way his hazel eyes stared deeply into mine ... the way he held his arms about me when he found me crying at my failure in my previous exam… the way he got this hopeful encouragement shining in his eyes when I was at the peak of my downfall… all those seemingly meaningful words he said to me as if there laid a thousand secret hopes beneath them… Well, it’s just that… I’d rather be here with you…. I don’t care about what other people think or that if you’re invited or not! I only care about spending my time with you! And the way he held my hand when we went gliding upon the smooth layer of ice… the way the warmth of his hands felt like electricity against mine upon the piano keys… and the way he made me trembled at the touch of his lips under the full moon…. Just as my heart began to soar upon what I thought was a new dawn, the black curtain of the night quickly drew close, shattering all hopes and dreams that had been nestling within me for so long in secrecy.
“Sabrina, I know you’re trying hard to avoid me…” His voice broke the silence of the kitchen as he moved closer to me, “… but can you please let me explain?”
“I told you, I don’t want to hear a thing from you, Lee….” I said slowly, still not bothering to meet his stare. I realised how I had been nothing but a fool in his eyes all this while. I just could not bring myself to look at him.
“Sabrina, Heidi and I are just….”
“… Friends?” I continued sarcastically. “Go on, say it. I’ve heard it so many times already and I’m getting sick of it. You can just tell me that you really like her. You don’t have to lie to please me. I mean I know who I am….”
“But the thing is, I’m not lying!” Lee creased his forehead in utter frustration. “God, Sabrina, why is it so hard for you to believe it?”
“Because I know you’ve always been on good terms with her. And she’s always been interested in you, if you haven’t noticed. Besides, I saw her at your house….”
“But she was just—God! That still doesn’t mean…!”
“She even said that you guys were going out since you couldn’t come to her party....”
“And you actually believed her?” He stared wide-eyed at me.
“You know, Lee, I used to wonder whether it was because of me that you purposely did not try to spend your time with Heidi when you had the chance. I kept denying it, telling myself that you were never like the rest of the guys. I thought you were different.” I sighed. “But I guess I was wrong.” Seeing the frown upon his face, I quickly added helplessly, “You know I’m not like Heidi. I mean, she’s popular, whereas I’m not. She has loads of boyfriends while I have none….” I glanced momentarily at him, “... never had one, in fact. I’ve hardly had a close guy friend until you came along but that was until….”
“Until what?” He was standing closer to me than ever before. His eyes were intense upon mine.
“Lee, I really don’t need your pity….” I forced myself to look away, realising awkwardly how I had been losing myself again in those hazel eyes.
“Pity?” Lee frowned. “Sabrina, how can you…?”
“I’m fine with it, Lee. Don’t worry. I don’t mind your being with Heidi. You have the right to like someone. I can’t force you to have the same view as mine.” My words sounded as calm as the sea yet only God knows how heartbreaking it was to me. “And you’re not the only guy for me, you know. It was just a mistake. Well, there’s Shawn….”
“Shawn…?” I thought I could see a hurt look in his eyes but I could never be sure.
“Yes, Shawn. I still do think about him once in a while.” I lied. “He may be far away but I somehow feel that he’s just nearby. Weird, no?” I tried to laugh before I made myself staring straight at him seriously. “There’s one more thing, Lee. I’d really appreciate it that from this day onwards, we’ll never see each other ever again.”
“Sabrina, that’s ridiculous!” He raised his voice disbelievingly. “Just let me explain, the other day…!”
“Stop it, Lee! For God’s sake, I don’t want to hear your excuses when everything is so clear! This is already hard for me, okay?” the calmness that surrounded me vanished just as soon as I burst into a snap. “I’ve trusted you but you’ve made a fool of me! I’ve even believed that you—God, I can’t believe this! I can’t believe you were just playing games with my heart all this while! How could you, Lee?”
“I didn’t play games with your heart!” Lee said defensively. He leaned closer and closer to me at each step he took. His shielding eyes softened suddenly into mine. I felt my heart pumping like crazy as his face neared mine. “Sabrina, I….” For a moment or two I thought he was about to kiss me again.
Just then, the cordless phone in the kitchen gave a loud, continuous cry.
“The phone…” I mumbled as his eyes, which were just inches away, fixed upon mine.
“Let it be….” He whispered softly. “I just want to explain to you that….”
“Oh don’t be ridiculous, Lee!” I felt his broad chest as I pushed him away, reaching for the ringing phone.
“Hello?” I almost muttered through the phone. I took no heed to Lee who was still staring at me.
“Hello, Sabrina? Is that you?” A smooth male voice was heard.
“Yes, it’s me. Who’s this?” I asked, puzzled at the unfamiliar voice.
“Hey, it’s me, Shawn Your tuition-mate who borrowed your history book last time remember?”
“Sh—Shawn?” I almost dropped the phone. .
“Shawn?” Lee wrinkled his forehead.
“Yes. I hope you remember me.” Shawn continued hopefully.
I was so shocked that for a moment or two I failed to say a word. Shawn? My long-time crush actually called me? But—but why? I thought he was gone for good since last two years when he moved to a boarding school? And where did he get my phone number anyway? All these questions twirled inside my head in a maze of confusion.
“Shawn? You mean that Shawn you were forever talking to me about back then? As in, your ex-crush?” Lee asked. The stunned expression upon his face gave way to a worried look.
I covered the phone speaker with my palm before frowning at him. “What do you mean by my ex-crush? For your information, he’s still my crush.” I said firmly.
“Yeah, right.” Lee smirked. .
“Oh you don’t believe me?” I stared at him challengingly. “For your information, he’s always been my crush since forever. He may be far away but he’s always been the first to me—he’s always been the first guy I’ve had a crush on!”
“Yeah right.” Lee repeated, shaking his head. “You hardly know this guy!”
“Of course I know him!” I defended sternly. “In fact, I know him far too long before I know you or even chat to you!”
“But you don’t know him as well as you know me.” Lee said with the most serious tone.
I knew he was right although I hated to admit it but I was not willing to give up just like that. “For your information, Lee James, you’re not the only guy in the world who really knows me so don’t act like one. He may not know me that well but at least he’s… he’s—he’s….” I struggled for a suitable word under those attentive hazel eyes, “… he’s showing an interest in me!”
“Showing an interest in you?” The ridicule that filled the tone of his voice irritated me extremely.
“Well, isn’t it obvious? I mean, he’s calling me after so long!” I said, desperate in hiding the uncertainty at my own words. “And he’s going to ask me out for a date, mind you!” I boasted impulsively. I knew I was being like an idiot when Shawn did not even breathe anything about a date to me. At the time, I thought that it was a cool thing to do so that he would not see me as a dateless loser who never had a boyfriend in her entire life!
“Oh really?” there was a sceptical look in his eyes.
Then I heard Shawn’s light voice slowly booming from the other end of the line, “Um, Sabrina? Are you there?”
“Yes, yes, I’m here. Just having a slight disruption, sorry.” I smiled sheepishly into the phone. “You were saying…?”
“I just thought that we could meet somewhere, you know, for me to return your History book. I’m sorry for keeping it for so long. It’s just that it’s not until today that I…”
“Hey, that’s really okay.” I said kindly with a smile. “So where do you want us to meet up?” I finally asked out loud on purpose that made Lee looked up at me spontaneously.
“Where do you think?” Shawn asked politely.
“I don’t mind, really.” My voice softened as I relaxed against the tiled wall of the kitchen, ignoring Lee completely as if he had not existed.
“Um… how about the cafeteria next to our tuition last time?” he suggested finally.
“Yes. Of course. Our favourite cafeteria.” I purposely emphasized on the word ‘our’ as I flashed Lee my most superior smile.
“Excuse me?” Shawn clearly did not know what I was talking about since we had never really been to the cafeteria together, let alone be friends close enough to know whether the cafeteria was really his favourite or not, (although it had been my favourite cafeteria) but of course, I was just saying that so that I would not sound like a loser to Lee. I knew it was silly but I could not care less. It was nothing compared to what he had done to my heart. Seeing Heidi this morning at his doorway… God, it still hurt….
“Anyway, what time tomorrow?” I asked.
“Uh, maybe later in the afternoon, about four?” Shawn said uncertainly.
“Four, it is.” I could not help smiling. “It’s a date!” I said out loud enough for Lee to hear.
“A date?” Lee stared at me in disbelief.
“A date?” Shawn sounded just as astonished.
“Okay, that would be more than lovely, Shawn.” I said, paying no heed at the thought of Shawn holding the phone with the most clueless expression upon his handsome face at my baffling answer. “We haven’t seen each other for so long. I’m glad you’re back. I miss you too. I guess we’ll see each other tomorrow then. I can’t wait to see you, too. Bye now.” I said it all in one breath and hung up the phone soon after that before Shawn could say another word.
“You’re going on a date with him?” I could see a smear of confusion tinged with disbelief upon Lee’s visage as soon as I rang off the phone.
“Yes. He asked me out.” I lied as I flaunted my greatest smile ever at his amazed expression. “Isn’t that wonderful?”
“I don’t believe you.” Lee shook his head.
“It’s not my business whether you believe or not!” I suddenly snapped.
“But you don’t know this guy!”
“I don’t care what you think, Lee! All I care is that he just asked me out and I said yes and we’re going on a date tomorrow! It’s not so surprising, is it? I mean, you—of all people who claim to know me better than anyone else know that Shawn has always been my crush since as long as I can remember so don’t act so surprised.” I rolled my eyes.
“You don’t know what you’re doing, Sabrina.”
“Of course I know what I’m doing!” I cut him off quickly in aggravation. “Why are you acting so stressed out anyway? I mean, you’ve already had Heidi, what more could you possibly want? You got Heidi and I got Shawn, so all’s fair in love right? Fair and square!”
“fair and square?” Lee’s disbelieving eyes almost bulged open. “Sabrina, it’s not about fair and square…!”
“For God’s sake, Lee, just leave me alone! Don’t act as if you care when the fact is you don’t!” The atmosphere was so intense I could just yell at him. “It’s not like you’re my boyfriend or anything—and as far as I know, we’re not even friends….” I paused at seeing him caught in daze, “… at least, not anymore….” I finally said. I found my heart being crushed again into pieces deep inside at my own words. I was even surprised at such words coming from my own lips. I felt all those years of friendship, all those happy moments of us chatting online till dawn and all those beautiful times we shared together all burnt slowly into ashes at the blazing flame of anger secreted beneath those unexpected words.
Lee just stared at me for a long time as if he was frozen. “I see….” It was barely above a whisper. I thought I could see a tremendous wave of hurt slapping his face as if I had just hit him.
Then all of a sudden, Mom appeared at the kitchen with a tray of dirty dishes. She looked at both Lee and me in puzzlement as silence filled the atmosphere. “Is everything okay?” She finally asked.
“Yes, everything’s okay, auntie.” His voice appeared as feeble as the forced smile he was offering. “I was just leaving….” His expression was empty and unreadable. He bowed his head before slowly walking off from there.
“Sabrina? Lee didn’t sound okay. Anything wrong?” Mom asked gently.
“No, Mom. There’s nothing wrong.” I said as I tried hard to hold back the tears, which silently flowed inside my veins, sinking my soul deeper and deeper within the bottomless abyss of my own guilt.
The next day during the sunny afternoon, I stood in front of the cafe where Shawn and I had promised to meet the day before. The sun was shining brightly in the clear sky, as I wiped a few beads of sweats that rolled down my forehead with a handkerchief. I looked at the sign board hung elegantly above the entrance door of the elite cafe which said: ‘Welcome to Fairy’s Bell Café’ written in striking pink, with an image of a beautiful fairy holding a bell with a pink lace enfolding it, stood beside the letters.
I remember how I used to come here with rest of my tuition-mates each time our tuition period ended. I remember coming here with Anita, gossiping about the latest happenings in school, laughing over funny events that took place, having heart-to-heart conversations about our views and feelings on life, as well as discussing mostly about our crushes—about Shawn, for the most part since I had always been the only loyal one to stick to one guy whereas Anita tend to switch crushes every once a month.
And now I could not believe here I was, about to have lunch with my unsurpassed crush at this very café that held countless memories. How ironic that I was thinking the same thing when he mentioned that we should meet at this café yesterday on the phone. I bit my lip nervously as I thought about what I had been rambling about on the phone to Shawn yesterday, just to boast to Lee that I could also have a date to myself. We haven’t seen each other for so long. I’m glad you’re back. I miss you too. I guess we’ll see each other tomorrow then. I can’t wait to see you, too. Bye now. It was not until now did I realise my absurdity. God, what was I thinking?
And Lee’s unforgettable miserable face when I announced unfeelingly that our friendship was over. A pang of guilt from yesterday still lingered yet, I tried to shove it aside just as quickly as it emerged at the thought of Heidi. I crossed my heart and hoped for the best as I stepped confidently into the soothing atmosphere of the café.
The small yet exclusive café began to be surrounded by a romantic air at the sound of a lovely ballad booming across a few speakers around the café. There were only a few couples and teenagers sitting at the far end of the café, chatting and laughing quietly over their meals. I knew I was supposed to be looking for Shawn but instead, a shiny white grand piano stood alone beside the bar caught my attention. It was weird but I could still feel Lee’s hands holding mine above the piano keys just the other night… the memory, however crushed into pieces as I attention diverted to a tall, manly figure of a lad standing awkwardly at a table not very far away from the piano.
My heart almost stopped beating as I recognised the guy was Shawn. There was a tinge of awkwardness in his smile as soon his eyes found mine.
“Um… hi?” Shawn smiled sheepishly. He looked handsome in his red Polo shirt and Denim jacket and a pair of blue jeans. I thought he looked taller and his figure more well-built than I saw him last. His wavy dark auburn hair, which I used to long to have my fingers, ran over it, now appeared spiky in a fashionable manner.
“Hi.” I said finally with a smile.
“Um… is—is this a date?” He blurted out. He sounded so clueless that I strained myself not to laugh out loud, remembering all the ridiculous things I said to him yesterday in front of Lee.
“Um, not really.” I smiled at him in amusement. As I was about to tell him the whole truth, “Not really?” a voice so familiar came out of nowhere. I spun my head around and was shocked to find Lee James standing there with a sceptical look. “Lee?” I felt like my eyes could burst open in fury. “What on earth are you doing here?”
“You’re not going out with him, are you?” Lee ignored my question as he stared straight at me.
“Have you been following me?” I asked him in wild disbelief. “God, Lee, I can’t believe this!”
“Um, so you’re friends with each other?” Shawn asked. The crease on his forehead became more visible as he stared at both of us.
“No!” I quickly cut Lee off.
“So you’re… Shawn?” Lee turned his eyes away from me toward Shawn. He stared at him from head to toe as if Shawn came from another planet. “You’re not exactly her boyfriend, are you?”
“Of course he is!” I quickly came to stand beside Shawn before he could speak a word. Shawn gave me the most incredulous look but I just quietly threw him my most innocently pleading look. “Uh, right, Shawn?”
Shawn stared at me in extreme puzzlement. For a moment or two, I thought he was not going to be helpful and that the truth would finally be revealed behind this sweet yet ridiculous masquerade of mine. Then, miraculously, Shawn said the most unexpected, “Uh, yes… I’m Sabrina’s boyfriend. Any problem with that?” I stared at Shawn as if I could not believe my eyes but I could only heave a breath of relief deep inside. Phew….
“Oh, really?” Lee, however, still looked sceptical.
“Yes, Lee. I told you yesterday, didn’t I?” I smiled proudly at him. “We’re on a date.”
“I see.” Lee nodded before he took out his hand to shake hands with Shawn. “Anyway, I’m Lee James, Sabrina’s very best friend—well, actually used to be more than just fr…1”
“He’s just an old friend, Shawn. Nothing more.” I quickly interrupted, smiling sheepishly at Shawn.
“Oh. An old friend, I see.” Shawn nodded. “So Lee, since you’re Sabrina’s old friend, would you like to join us?” I stared at Shawn as if he had just gone out of his mind but he did not seem to meet my eyes. God, why must Shawn be so… polite?
Lee looked surprised yet pleased. “Oh. Well, of course. Certainly.” Without waiting to be invited, he sat on the chair across the table before both Shawn and I. I just rolled my eyes at the smirk on his face.
“Give me just a glass of orange juice, please.” Lee ordered to the waiter before he looked at both Shawn and I. “Don’t you want anything?”
“I’ll have Bolognese spaghetti, please and a sky juice.” Shawn said to the waiter before he turned to me with a smile. “So, would you like Bolognese spaghetti too, honey?” Shawn winked meaningfully. “You know it’s always been our favourite.”
I just smiled sheepishly. Sure, I was thankful to Shawn at his kindness that he was willing to put up an act with me in front of Lee though he had no idea what was going on between Lee and me… but spaghetti Bolognese? My stomach began to churn at the thought.
“Are you kidding?” Lee frowned. “Sabrina can’t eat Spaghetti Bolognese, at least not the one that is not cooked by her mom!”
Shawn just stared blankly at him along with the bewildered waiter.
“Of course I can, Lee!” I defended stubbornly before turning to Shawn with the sweetest smile. “Go on, Shawn. Of course I can eat spaghetti Bolognese. Like you said, it’s our favourite.”
“Sabrina, don’t be ridiculous!” Lee stared wide-eyed at me. “You have a gastric, remember? You can’t eat anything too sour like spaghetti Bolognese!”
“Really, Sabrina?” Shawn looked at me guiltily.
“Uh, well, yes….” I smiled weakly.
“So I guess you don’t know Sabrina well enough to be her boyfriend.” Lee voiced out straightaway as soon as we finished ordering our food (Carbonara spaghetti in replace of the Bolognese spaghetti—I would never make it obvious to Lee but I felt deeply relief deep inside that I was not going to suffer another series of gastric). I just rolled my eyes at the arrogance in his tone of voice when he carried on, “… Anyway, that’s okay. Let me tell you a thing or two about dating Sabrina. The most important thing is to never take her out to the movies.”
I almost choked on the honeydew juice I was sipping on.
“Oh. But why not?” Shawn asked interestedly.
“You don’t know about that, either?” He raised an eyebrow. “A pity, isn’t it, Sabrina to know that your boyfriend doesn’t really know a thing about you?” he smirked at me but I just rolled my eyes. He carried on, “… Anyway, for your information, Shawn, I repeat, don’t take her to the cinema. She’ll fall asleep.” He stared at me meaningfully this time, “I don’t know why but it becomes her habit to sleep at the cinema. Perhaps it’s because of the dullness of staring at the screen or perhaps the darkness… but trust me, she’ll fall asleep.”
“I do not!” I creased my forehead at him.
“Of course you do.” Lee insisted. “You know you do, Sabrina.” He stared at me and I knew he was right. He was always right—and I hated it. I thought about the moment when I fell asleep on his shoulder all throughout the movie and waking up to find his eyes rested tenderly upon me. I shivered at the thought.
Lee smirked. “Anyway, Shawn, I heard that you went away for boarding school?” I was relieved that he attempted to change the topic.
“Oh yes.” Shawn replied. “I’ve been away for boarding school for a couple of years but now I’m back.”
“You’re back?” I asked excitedly. “You mean, so you’re going back to our school?” I looked at him hopefully.
“Uh, unfortunately, no.” Shawn smiled weakly. “I’m going to study at a new school near my house.”
“Oh. That’s too bad.” My face fell.
“Actually, I prefer the boarding school life but I have to switch to a residential school since….”
“You actually prefer the boarding school life?” Lee butted in—to my annoyance. I watched him stared at Shawn in incredulity.
“Isn’t it rather boring with all the rules and everything?” Lee said. “I mean, I used to go to a boarding school when I was expelled from school back in England and it was horrible. I mean, it’s like you got no freedom. You had to queue for food, you had a daily schedule arranged by God-knows-who, you could not go out unless they allowed you to which was at least once a month, plus with all the ridiculous rules! And the food stinks too! It’s like you have no control over your life—someone else is controlling you telling you what you should or shouldn’t do—isn’t it rather ridiculous since it’s your own life? It’s your life and we can do anything we like with it!” Lee shook his head. “You’ve got to be kidding!”
“I think boarding school is actually a good place to teach us some discipline. It’s for our own good, anyway. I like the routines, the orderliness—it feels… well, systematic, in a way. “
“Systematic?” Lee stared at Shawn as if he could not believe his ears. “Feeling like a prisoner in your own so-called home and have other people controlling your life that you don’t have the freedom to do anything you like is called systematic?”
“I don’t call it that but….”
“Come on, Shawn. Be honest with me, won’t you? I mean, you have broken some of the rules at least once, haven’t you?”
“No?” Lee looked surprised. “No? The thought of running away from the boarding school, too, has never occurred to you?”
“That has never crossed my mind….”
“Wow, really? I’m impressed.” Lee said sarcastically, ignoring my warning stare.” So what were you in the school? One of the prefects or something?”
“Well, actually, yes….”
“Ah, no wonder.” Lee nodded. “I remember how I always got into trouble with the prefects. I mean, they are such goodies-goodies….” Seeing the look upon Shawn’s face, lee added quickly, “…no offence but it’s true. But I assure you, we do need goodies-goodies, too, as well as rebels, so that the world won’t be a boring place to live. I mean, imagine if the whole world obeys rules, it will be boring, won’t it?” Lee grinned. “Anyway, I respect you for your strength to cope with rules in boarding school for years. For me, I can barely survive the rules, not even for a day. They drive me crazy! Thank God I was sent back to my old school after a few attempts of trying to run away from the school at night.”
“You ran away from boarding school?” Shawn stared at Lee disbelievingly.
“Yeah. It’s nothing, really.” Lee boasted. “It’s fun and exciting—like a kind of adventure. You should try it once in a while rather than following the rules blindly like a true bore.” Lee grinned again. “Anyway, that’s not all. I used to be involved in illegal rac…!”
“Lee, that’s enough.” I could not believe that he was actually boasting about his rebellious past to Shawn!
“Sorry. I just got carried away, I guess. I don’t think you want to know about it since you used to be a prefect. I bet you’ve never done all those things I’ve done. Like I’ve said, you’re the follower of the rules while I’m….” Lee’s words to Shawn trailed away as soon as he met my stare. “Oops… I’m sorry to bore you with the unnecessary details of my life, Shawn. I bet you’re more interested in knowing all about Sabrina? Well, ask away….” Lee’s smile was full of sarcasm. “Besides, you deserve to know everything about her since you’re supposed to be her boyfriend….” I knew that he could sense the phoniness about us.
“That’s it, Lee!” before I knew what I was doing, I rose from my seat and dragged him away from there toward the busy street in front of the café.
“What do you think you were doing?” I asked him out of frustration.
“Your boyfriend, eh?” he smirked. “He sure knows a great deal about you….” He added sarcastically.
“And so you claim to know me better? You’re acting as if you know me when…!”
“I do know you, Sabrina.” He interrupted quietly as he stared meaningfully at me. “I do know you….”
I tried to speak but could not. I knew he was right. I knew he knew me better than anyone else even before we met—perhaps even more than I knew myself. I could not just simply deny the fact after all those heart-to-heart conversations we had on the Internet back then and all those moments we spent together being best friends and houses just opposite each others’. “Why—why did you follow me?” I finally asked slowly.
His bowing head finally looked up at me. “Because I care….” He simply said. “Sabrina I can’t see why you’re doing this. I mean, he doesn’t even know you. You don’t even know him that well, either.”
“There’s always time for us to get to know each other...”
“But you’re not interested in him or even have feelings for him!”
“What makes you think I don’t?”
Lee fell silent. His eloquent gaze seemed to keep a sea of buried secrets—like hidden treasures left undiscovered. “Because I just know, Sabrina. I can see it in your eyes. You don’t want him…”
“.. So you think it’s you that I want?”
Lee stared at me wordlessly as though words were useless to show his silent agreement.
“Don’t be silly, Lee. You, of all people, should know that I’ve always been interested in Shawn. He came into my life… first.”
“I can’t see why… you know he’s too much of a goody-goody for you, Sabrina. He obeys every single rule, for God’s sake!”
“You don’t have the right to criticise him like that, Lee.” My eyes were, cold, unfeeling. “I think he’s a very nice, obedient person who has faith in what he believes. He may be a person who cares about discipline and follow every single rule but that doesn’t mean he’s a fool or make you feel superior to him. Well, at least….” I paused before I looked at him in the eye, “… at least he never smoke, or drink, or attend late-night parties, or skip school or being expelled from school or even involve in illegal racing….”
Lee kept on staring at me as if it could last eternally before he finally nodded, “I see. I will never be good enough for you, will I?” He said quietly. “But I do know you, Sabrina. And I do care. I just hope that he’ll care for you as much as I do….” Those were his last words that I knew would leave an eternal mark on my mind later on as I saw his figure moving farther and farther away, blending into the crowd before vanishing out of sight.
I twirled around to find Shawn standing at the entrance of the café behind me.
“Is everything okay?” He asked concernedly. “You look… pale.”
Shawn then took me back to the same table near the piano. Just seeing the white-painted piano blew my mind back to the moonlit night of my birthday with just Lee, me and the piano. My heart bleed again with more misery at the memory. “Thanks, Shawn.” I tried to smile when Shawn offered me a glass of plain water.
“What happened?” He asked gently. “Did you two have a fight or something?”
“I don’t know how to explain it, Shawn.” I sighed helplessly. I leaned against the comfy chair while Shawn just observed me from across the table before me.
“That’s okay. You don’t have to.” Shawn said kindly. “But you two look very close to each other. He seems to know a lot about you.”
“He does, doesn’t he?” I smiled fleetingly.
“If I’m not mistaken, I think he’s interested in you.”
I laughed cynically as if he just said the most illogical thing. “Hah! He’s more interested in Heidi, that’s for sure.”
“Heidi?” He shot up his thick eyebrow. “You mean my ex-girlfriend?”
“Who else?” I cross-folded my arms as I threw my gaze away toward a few men in business suits engaged in a deep discussion not very far from where we were sitting.
“It’s not very surprising for a guy to like her. That’s normal.” Shawn laughed that made me stared at him. “I mean, she’s beautiful and charming. I remember the first time I saw her, I thought she was the most beautiful thing on earth until I began dating her. That was when her true colour showed. Well, you know what happened next.” He lowered his eyes. “She began dating other guys at the same time. Well, it’s not surprising. I should’ve known that she’s always been a cheater.”
“It sucks, isn’t it to have someone you like cheating on you behind your back?” I thought about my unexpected meeting with Heidi at Lee’s house. The rush of sadness burned away by a newly-lit blaze of frustration.
“It definitely is.” Shawn nodded. “But I guess life has to move on. Eventually, you know, they’re not that great after all.”
I nodded, smiling for the first time. It felt so good to have someone as understanding as Shawn as a companion. “Anyway, thanks for pretending to be my boyfriend. I owe you one.”
“Don’t mention it.” Shawn winked playfully. “I’ve always wanted to be an actor.”
I laughed lightly. “I’ll pray that you’ll win the Oscar.”
“Ooh… that’s a long way to go….” Shawn laughed, “… but still if I do win, you’ll be the first I thank you when I go up on stage to give my thank-you speech for your prayer.”
“Well, I prefer that you take me out to a grand dinner with celebrities like James Blunt, for example.” I joked. “It’ll be a dream come true.”
Shawn laughed out loud. “I wish.” Then as soon as his laughter gradually ceased, he said, “But anyway, I’m curios to know the reason why you want my service as an amateur actor to act as your boyfriend in front of Lee James….”
My face changed slightly. “Shawn, if possible, I don’t want to talk about it….”
“Oh I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have been too nosy.” He smiled ashamedly. “Anyway, that’s not the reason why we come here, right?” then he picked up a blue bag before he delved his hand into it and took out a thick hard-covered book. “Here’s your History book. Thanks for lending it to me.” I reached for the textbook with a smile.
“I’m sorry that it took me so long to return it to you….” He said apologetically.
“That’s okay—it’s not that I used it very often.” I smiled. “Anyway, it’s nice to have you back here again.” I commented.
“Nice to be back too.” He smiled back before he suddenly sank into a deep, thoughtful silence. “Sabrina, I….” He started all of a sudden but paused for a moment as if he did not dare to go on. His sparkling eyes now seemed intense upon her.
“Is there anything wrong, Shawn?” I asked.
“Sabrina, I can’t lie to you.” He finally blurted out. “Actually I don’t feel sorry that I didn’t return the book earlier to you.”
“I’m sorry?” I blinked at him in confusion.
“It’s true.” He nodded before he looked back up at me. “I purposely didn’t return the book to you the day before I went away like I was supposed to—because… because I thought that if the book was still with me, then I would have an excuse to see you again when I got back from boarding school.” He lowered his head suddenly. “I have to tell you this, Sabrina. I know I have to or it’ll be too late. When I saw you coming in with Lee James just now, I thought I was too late, but I wasn’t, was I?”
“I mean, there’s still a chance for me to be with you, isn’t it?” he finally lifted his eyes. “Sabrina, I came here to meet you not just to return your book. I wanted to be with you—to be more than just friend with you….”
I was totally speechless at those heartfelt words of his. This could not be happening. My all-time crush was confessing his feelings for me? I had been dreaming about this all my life only to be caught in despair during those lonely nights… but now Shawn was saying that he wanted to be more than friends with me? It was almost unbelievable yet… flattering.
Shawn smiled nervously. I could almost see him blush. “Surprised, eh? It’s weird but I haven’t really been aware of it until I called you last night after so long. I thought I was already over you but when you told me how you missed me, that you couldn’t wait to see me and….” We haven’t seen each other for so long. I’m glad you’re back. I miss you too. I guess we’ll see each other tomorrow then. I can’t wait to see you, too. Bye now. The phoney words I said to him last night played back in my mind. God, what had I done?
Shawn laughed awkwardly. “I know you were just pretending when you said that. Perhaps, Lee James was there that made you said that—whatever the reason is.”
“He’s my neighbour.”
“Oh I see.” Shawn nodded. “Well, although I knew you were pretending, it just felt weird when I felt that there was hope, that I wanted to believe so badly that you really meant those words.” Shawn kept on gazing at me. “I was actually surprised at myself for hoping so much then I realised that I still liked you..”
I felt myself blushing. I looked down at the torn tissues that I had been tearing out of anxiety, scattering upon my lap. “But—but… why?” I found myself asking.
“Oh I don’t know.” Shawn shook his head in uncertainty. “Well, I remember you as the quiet but smart girl who’s always been the high-scorer in Biology.” I thought about my dreadful downfall when I got a ‘C’ for my biology. How I had been so depressed and hopeless. But Lee was there. He was always there to comfort me and to help me stand on my feet again. But I do know you, Sabrina. And I do care. I just hope that he’ll care for you as much as I do…. I felt suddenly so confused. “And in tuition, you’ve always been that shy, quiet girl….” Shawn carried on, “… I thought you looked somehow mysterious—you’re never like any other superficial girls—definitely different from Heidi.” Shawn grinned, “… Then I finally got to know you when I sat next to you. That’s when it all started.” Shawn paused, staring at me, “… you’re just different from other girls I met, Sabrina.” I felt his hand reaching for mine. I made no gesture as I sat there, motionless, that made him leaned closer and closer to me. His deep eyes told of longing and hidden desire as they came closer. Those nearing brown eyes reminded me of Lee’s when he left me a kiss in the moonlight during the night of my birthday. I realised with a quiver that Shawn was about to kiss me.
My heart hammered rapidly against my chest but came into a pause when I noticed Lee’s tall figure from above Shawn’s shoulder. I was surprised to see him standing there on the busy street in front of the café behind the wall of translucent glass, watching us with an unreadable expression. Then I realised what I was doing.
“Shawn, I—I can’t….” I breathed finally.
“What’s wrong?” Shawn whispered as he pulled away slightly.
I took a glance swiftly from above Shawn’s shoulder and found that Lee was not there anymore. I sighed.
“You’re okay?” Shawn asked with mild concern. “I’m sorry. I mean, I shouldn’t have….”
“No, no, it’s okay.” I tried to smile. “It’s just that… I just don’t think it’s the right time.”
Shawn stared at me before he nodded slowly. “Yes. You’re right. Perhaps we should get to know each other better first. I mean, that is, if you feel the same way about us….”
I thought about Heidi standing in Lee’s doorway: Well, you can say that it’s just a little secret between Lee and me. Oh—didn’t you know? Lee is going to take me out to make up to me for breaking his promise to come to my party last night. Oh—didn’t he tell you? I mean, weren’t you guys supposed to be best friends? I looked up at Shawn with the most hopeful beam and said, “Yes, Shawn, I think it’s best for us to be more than just friends….”
“Lee? Lee James?” Mrs. Ng’s voice thundered out loud across the square-shaped classroom during the last period of school. I turned sadly to Lee’s empty seat beside Heidi at the back of the class.
“You know he’s not there, Sabrina.” Anita whispered to my sympathetically. “You know he has been absent from school for so long. I’m not surprised if someday he will eventually get kicked out of school.” Anita sighed helplessly.
“No, he won’t.” I defended fiercely all of a sudden. “I mean, he can’t quit school. I can’t imagine him…” Although it had been months since I last talked to Lee, I realised how much I still cared for him although I strained myself so hard not to—that he had not got anything to do with my life anymore. But I realised now that it was not that simple. It never was. I could not just pretend that all those memories I had with him meant nothing to me. It did mean something to me no matter how at the thought of him with Heidi pained me to the very core of my soul.
“Lee?” Mrs. Ng called out loud again. “Don’t tell me he’s absent again.” The middle-aged woman sighed as she scribbled something on a long hard-cover book on the teacher’s desk. “He’s been absent for weeks and weeks and until now, I haven’t got any letter explaining his absence. Is he sick?” Her question was answered only by the silence of the class. She groaned before she caught my eyes. “Sabrina, you’re his neighbour, aren’t you?” She asked sharply. “Do you know what happened to him?”
“Uh, I’m sorry, Mrs. Ng but no. I’m afraid I don’t know.” I was telling the truth. I honestly did know. Secretly deep inside, I hated the fact that I did not know. I mean, all this while when we were still friends, I was always so used to having him around and knowing every latest happening about him, knowing him better than I had ever known anyone… and now, it just felt sad to know that I was not a part of his life anymore ever since… ever since he witnessed Shawn about to kiss me at the café a few months ago. He was hardly being himself ever since. I heard rumours that he skipped school, involved in some disciplinary cases with the school authority but I could never be sure—or perhaps, I was just trying hard not to believe it.
Mrs. Ng heaved the heaviest sigh. “I wonder what has got into Lee James recently. The principal and other teachers claim that he’s been playing truant. Not only that, his exam result too drops a great deal—quite shocking for a bright student like him.” Mrs. Ng complained. “Sooner or later I think he’s going to be dropped out of school.” Mrs. Ng shrugged.
“D—dropped out of school?” I said out aloud out of shock before I could help myself.
Mrs. Ng looked at me sympathetically. “I’m afraid so, Sabrina. He’s changed a lot, you know. He has gone beyond control now. There’s going to be a meeting by the principal to discuss about it.”
“But they can’t do that!” My voice boomed impulsively across the quiet classroom that made all eyes focused upon me. I had never been so used to being in the limelight or even cared about it, but this time I did not care. All I cared about was for Lee to stay in the school and to continue his proper education here. “I mean, we’re all going to graduate from school only a few months later. They can’t just kick him out just like that! He needs to study here! You said yourself that he was a bright student!”
Mrs. Ng looked at me, mildly surprised. “Yes, Sabrina, I understand about your concern towards your friend, Lee. But he leaves us no other choice if he keeps on behaving the way he did lately. Besides, it depends on the principal to make the decision. And I don’t think he’s happy with it, either.” ”
I groaned. I felt a light pat on my shoulder. I turned beside me to find Anita’s sympathetic face filling my eyesight. “You still care about Lee, don’t you?”
“Hey, is everything all right?” Shawn asked as soon as he met me at the crowded canteen after the last bell rang.
“Shawn? What are you doing here?” I asked, surprised.
“Well, I just want to check on my sweet girlfriend, that’s all.” He smiled sweetly as leaned against the water fountain, facing me.
“Shouldn’t you be at your school?”
“Aren’t you glad to meet me?” Shawn tried to laugh.
“Well, yeah, but….”
“Well, our teacher let us out early today since our school is hosting this so-called grand netball tournament between teachers from other schools.” He smiled as he took my bag and slung it by his shoulder. “So, can I walk you home?” he offered kindly.
I just smiled at him. Since I agreed to be Shawn’s girlfriend, he had been nothing but sweet and kind to me. He would always call me whenever he was free just to say hi and that he missed me. I was thankful to have such a caring boyfriend as him. I knew I should be but somehow there was always this feeling of emptiness deep inside my heart. The feeling went lingering, secretly inside my heart so incomplete, even though I knew I used to dream about this all my life back then, for Shawn to be mine, since he had always been my first and all-time crush. Yet, I still could not understand what went missing that I never even let Shawn kissed me even though we had been dating for almost three months now. I thought I had everything love could offer: a caring boyfriend, a kind best friend like Anita, loving yet overprotective parents… what could I possibly want other than that?
Just then a tiny, hopeful flicker suddenly lit up my mind, as if a black curtain was drawn slowly, to reveal the figure of Lee in my mind’s eye, “… Shawn, I can’t go home. Not yet. I’m going to the office.” I finally said.
“Office? What for?” Shawn called out but I kept on running as fast as my legs could carry me toward the empty hallway. I was relieved that most students had already gone home as I listened to my own quick footfalls echoed in the air when I raced up the empty flight of stairs. I was almost out of breath as soon as I entered the school office. The office was almost empty except for a few clerks busily typing on the scriptwriter. They did not seem to notice my existence there so I just went to stand in front of the principal’s office in the air-conditioned room. I took a deep breath before I finally left a knock or two on the wooden door beneath a blue sign that said ‘Principal’s Office’ in white block letters.
“Come in!” the principal’s familiar stern voice was heard from inside and I felt relieved that he was there.
“Mr. Jay….” I said as soon as I was inside the clean, tidy room.
The principal finally twirled his seat around to face me with a surprised look on his dark face. “Yes, Sabrina, the future doctor who’s always been among the top scorers in class…” His grin showed off his line of perfect white teeth in contrast of his dark skin. “What can I do for you?” His big hand was adjusting the position of his spectacles on his nose before he let it rest again on top of a pile of papers scattered upon his messy table.
“Please don’t kick Lee James out of school!” I voiced out finally what had been lying inside my heart for so long. “You can’t make him quit school!”
“Ah… that problematic kid….” Mr. Jay sighed hopelessly. “Trust me, Sabrina, if possible, I don’t want to kick him out of school, either. I really hate to do that. I mean, it’s a pity, rather a waste of mind to kick him out of school since he’s always been a bright student. They say the most terrible waste is a waste of mind.”
“Then don’t do it!” I said simply.
“You see, Sabrina….” He sighed. “It’s not that simple. It’s not all about whether you’re smart or not. It’s not about when you’re smart you can do anything you like. Your behaviour counts too—morality is the most important. Your intelligence will be useless if you lack morality. You see all those people who commit crimes—all those criminals… they’re smart but they misuse their intelligence for all the wrong purposes. They lack morality. It’s a pity, isn’t it?”
“Lee is not a criminal.” I realised myself defending in a dangerously low voice. “And I’m not here to hear all your lectures, either. You make the wrong decision if you kick him out of school.” It was the first I ever stood up to the principal. It was no surprise to see the shocked look in his eyes beneath his round specs.
“Sabrina, I know you’re good friends with him but don’t you know how he has been involved in too many disciplinary cases just these few months?” The half-bald man who must be in his late forties wrinkled his forehead. “He got into of fights with other kids in school and out of school. People caught him skipping school with other troubled kids—there’s no wonder he’s been absent from school for weeks and for no reason at all. Plus, people caught him and his other troubled friends drinking around the school area, and the illegal racing….”
I closed my eyes and fought the tears from streaming. Every word that slid off his lips sank my breaking heart deeper and deeper into the ocean of despair as I tasted this disillusioned reality. Suddenly I felt so scared. I was afraid that this Lee Mr. Jay was referring to was not the caring, charming Lee James I knew anymore….
“… plus, he never attend his basketball practice anymore….”
“W—what? He didn’t go to basketball practice anymore?” I opened my eyes spontaneously. I could hardly believe it. I could still remember his words full of hope once upon a time that still rang loud in my ear: Well, since you told me those three dreams of yours, I’ll tell you my three most ultimate dreams. First one will be to be the best professional basketball player on earth… I knew he wanted to see his own little brother to be a basketball player since he couldn’t be one because of his height. And I just want to make him proud of me…. “But that can’t be, Mr. Jay! He’s always loved playing basketball! He—he did it for his brother, Darren! He just wanted to make Darren proud of him, there’s no way…!”
“Sabrina, I’m afraid that he is already losing his interest in playing basketball. It’s been weeks since he last went to his basketball practice, according to Coach Jeff.” Mr. Jay said slowly. “I know that’s shocking, believe me, Sabrina, we’re all shocked too at the drastic change of his behaviour. So you see, Sabrina, that’s why the best way is for him take a break for a while from school to give him time to think whether he really wants to study…!”
“No, Mr. Jay!” I shook my head as I hurried to his table, resting my both palms on it. “Please don’t kick him out of school. Please don’t. Give him a second chance to change himself.”
“I beg you, Mr. Jay, please just give him one last chance. Just once! Maybe he’s just feeling confused. I know him, Mr Jay. He may be a rebel but he’s not as bad as you think. Oh, please, Mr. Jay! Please!” I had never been so desperate in my entire life and I did not know why I did it for…no, I knew why… because of Lee….
“Sabrina, I told you….!”
“Please, Mr. Jay, I’m begging you. I know he will change—it only takes time. Please. Give him just one last chance. Just this once! All he needs is a chance!” I felt so desperate I could have gone down on my knees with tears streaming upon my imploring face.
Mr. Jay finally took off his specs after a while. He sighed, “Oh—oh well… okay—but I can only give him one week. If not, then….”
“Oh thank you, Mr. Jay! You’re the best!” On impulse, I practically hugged the principal, feeling a rush of joy and gratefulness overwhelming me.
“But there’s one thing….” He announced that made me paused. I looked at him with a pounding heart, “Why do you have to do this for him?” he finally asked. “I mean, he can just stand up for himself if he wants to but why do you have to this for him?”
His question caught me off-guard right there and then. For the first time, I could not think of a reply. I did not know why. I was not sure why. Instead of answering, I just stared at him back, searching for the true answer, in the dazed silence….
“Is everything okay?” I heard Shawn asked somehow faintly in my ear as we walked toward a corner, heading to my house from school. “Sabrina?”
“Uh, yes?” I turned away from staring at the grassy ground beneath us. I blinked at Shawn’s concerned face.
“I said, is everything okay?” Shawn repeated patiently. “I mean, you look distracted ever since you went to the principal’s office just now.”
“Oh sorry. It was just—well, there have been a lot of things going on in my mind right now, I guess.” I said vaguely.
“Sabrina, is there something you’re not telling me?” Shawn kept on asking. “For example, you didn’t tell me why you had to go to the principal’s office. Sabrina, you can always…..” the rest of his words as if were swept away by the lazy afternoon wind as soon we finally reached the gate of my house. There sitting on a bench opposite my house were Lee chatting lively to Roy who sat beside him. I frowned at both of them who seemed to be so engrossed in whatever topic they were discussing about particularly at Roy. Roy, the popular school rebel who was known for always getting into trouble with the school authorities, was actually Lee’s best friend now?
Our conversation during one of our walks in the old days flew back into my mind:
I didn’t know that you’re friends with Roy and his gang….
Sabrina, don’t worry about it. I’m not hanging out with them. I was just being friendly, that’s all. What’s wrong about being friendly?
I could not believe he was hanging out with Roy in spite of what he used to say. Then I realised in dismay that those words of his were just merely words—nothing more. How much he had changed! I did not realise that I was still staring at him until his eyes finally caught mine. The liveliness upon his pale face was taken away by the blankness in his expression. He sank into silence all of a sudden that made Roy, too, turned to look at me. I wanted to speak to him but the words would not come out. What more could I say? It was me who had ended whatever things that bind us together once upon a time. It was me who made us drifted apart from each other until I felt that we were nothing now but complete strangers. I thought about those beautiful days we had spent walking, confiding our secret dreams and hopes in each other, talking about nothing in particular, laughing over silly matters, encouraging and comforting each other during every downfall. Then the kiss… Heidi….The memories came flooding back as we locked eyes, and I knew—I just knew he was thinking the same, too.
Just then, his wistful eyes finally turned away from me toward Shawn beside me then back at me again. He stared at both of us before nodding slowly as if to bestow a silent blessing. Then he rose slowly from the bench, walking away with Roy following him into the house.
As I watched him walking helplessly away, I realised how much I missed those days…how much I had missed him….
“Sabrina?” I finally turned away and blinked at Shawn. .
Shawn took a deep breath, “I said, it’s because of Lee James, isn’t it?”
I was watering the plant that shady late Friday afternoon at my house compound when a metallic-blue Mercedes stopped in front of Lee’s house. I almost strained my neck curiously to find Mrs. James getting out of the car with the happiest smile I had ever seen upon her beautiful fair face.
“Bye, Harris!” She waved goodbye at the handsome middle-aged man who was the driver of the car before he drove away out of sight. “Hello, Sabrina.” The friendly woman smiled at me as soon as she noticed me.
“Hello.” I smiled back. Deep inside, I could not help wondering who the man was for I had never seen Mrs. James going out with a man before.
“Would you like to have a chat with me for a while, Sabrina?” She asked suddenly before she took a look at the water hose in my hold, “… that is, if you’re not busy….”
“Not at all” I smiled as I quickly turned off the tap and rushed to sit beside her on the bench in front of her house. I remember sitting on the same bench with Lee the first time we met, talking and laughing with him at his jokes from late afternoon until dusk. It was a miracle that it took only the first meeting for us to get along well with each other. The awkwardness of meeting each other for the first time just disappeared away, almost as if it had never existed. Perhaps, it was because we had already known each other well before we even met—thanks to the developing era of technology where Internet had bridged us closer together even though we were thousand miles away. Yet, now that we lived just across from each other’s houses, it was reality that really separated us, rather than the fantasy of Internet. How ironic, I thought.
“Are your parents at home?” Mrs. James asked to start the conversation.
I shook my head. “They went out just now to do some grocery shopping.”
“I see.” Mrs. James nodded before she smiled at me. “You’re really lucky to have parents who are still alive and are very much in love with each other. It doesn’t always happen to some unlucky teenagers nowadays, you know.” She lid her arms around my neck lovingly that made me feel relaxed. “At least you’ve grown up in a happy and loving environment. I’m so happy for you—only that I wish Lee were as lucky as you.” Her once joyful voice lowered down as gloomy as the grey sky above us.
“Mrs. James, don’t feel that way. I believe that everything happens for a reason.” I comforted kindly. “All those things Lee had to go through in the past can only make him feel much stronger and wiser in the end. Besides, he’s lucky to have someone as loving and as kind as you to be his mom. Actually I admire you. It must be hard to support your children single-handedly, being a single mother, like you who have a career to concentrate on at the same time.”
I noticed that the radiant smile upon her rosy face grew wider. “Well, I don’t think I’ll be alone anymore….” She said secretively.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, I’m going to get married.” She finally announced after a while. I could see her big eyes sparkling.
“You are?” My jaw dropped in shock. “You mean the guy who sent you home just now…?”
“Yes. That’s Harris, my boyfriend. I met him just last two years. He was my mechanic you see, that’s how we met.” I could see that the woman sitting me now was very much in love just by the tender look and the eternal sparkle in her eyes when she mentioned her boyfriend’s name, Harris.
“Oh. I didn’t know….”
“Yes, quite shocking, isn’t it for a widow like me to fall in love again?” She laughed lightly. “Well, it was quite unexpected for me, too—for both Harris and I, I mean. We were just friends at first. The thought of falling in love again had never really occurred to me ever since my husband died but as we got to know each other better over the years, there was this instant chemistry between us. I can’t explain it. I mean, we can’t control our feelings, can we? We can’t just simply choose the person we want to fall in love with, can we? I’ve learnt that love can come when we least expected it… even in the most inappropriate places or situations… it just instantly swept you off your feet, just like that. That’s how it happened, Sabrina.” She was gazing at the thick clouds inching slowly upon the moody sky. “And just now on our date, he proposed to me.”
“And you said…?” I asked, foolishly.
“I said, yes, of course.” She smiled. “I mean, I’ve been thinking a lot about it as a marriage isn’t really a small matter—considering that this will be my second marriage. I thought that maybe this would be the best way for me to move on and start a new life after my husband’s death. I mean, that’s what it’s all about right when I decided to move here? Maybe it’s good for both Darren and Lee as they’ve always needed a father when their dad died. Don’t you think so?”
“Yes. I think that’d be great.” I smiled brightly. I felt happy for her. Yet, there was another thing that really bothered me, “Um, Mrs. James, have you told Lee about this?” I asked curiously.
The cheeriness on her expression changed slightly to sombreness. I took that as a bad sign. Just as she was about to mouth for a reply, the same man who drove Mrs. James home in his Mercedes appeared in front of us out of nowhere.
“Harris!” I observed Mrs. James’s eyes lit up at the sight of the handsome man who seemed to be almost out of breath.
“Laura, I just came to return you this.” He showed her a flowery turquoise scarf that he brought with him in his hand. “You left it in the car.” I observed the smiling man’s expression. He looked elegant and attractive in his smart black suit with his dark hair combed back stylishly like a true gentleman. I was not surprised how Mrs. James could fall for a pleasant-looking man like him. Besides, he was not that old nor that young as he looked about the same age as Mrs. James.
“Oh. How careless of me!” Laura reached for the scarf, smilingly. “Thanks.” Just when the man was about to lean closer to leave her a kiss, he noticed me with a smile. “Well, well, well, I didn’t know you have such a sweet-looking daughter, Laura? You told me that you only had two sons.”
“You mean, Sabrina? Oh no. She’s my neighbour’s daughter.” Laura smiled down at me.” Sabrina, meet Harris.”
“Hello, Sabrina.” Harris smiled kindly at me as he shook hands with me. He did seem like a nice guy, after all. I would have approved of him being my stepfather if I were Lee. Just then, I saw Mrs. James whispered something smilingly in his ear that made him nodded, grinning at me as he did so. I thought I could hear Lee’s name and mine being whispered. “I’ve sure heard a lot about you, Sabrina.” The man grinned. “You and Lee are very close to each other, isn’t that right?” I thought I could sense a teasing tone in his deep, friendly voice.
Used to…. I wanted to say but I just smiled at him, hiding the pain inside me.
“Isn’t he wonderful?” That was the first sentence that came out of Mrs. James’s mouth as soon as we sank bank onto the same bench after Harris left.
“Yes, he is.” I agreed with a smile.
“Only that I hope Lee will think the same, too.” There was a tinge of hopelessness in her slow voice. “I’ve told Darren and he doesn’t seem to mind but Lee….”
She sighed. “Sabrina, just what’s going on between you two?” She asked suddenly. “I mean, ever since you and Lee acting like strangers to each other these few months, he’s never been the same. Do you know that he got into his old habit again—with the fights, skipping school, drinking and everything?” She sounded frustrated. “I’ve advised him so many times but he doesn’t seem to want to listen. He’s been quite difficult ever since and I’m not sure whether he’d be happy if I get married again. I don’t want another argument to come between us. And just yesterday, I got a letter from the school warning me that they’d kick him out of school if he keeps on with his uncontrollable behaviour. God, Sabrina, I don’t know what to do with him.”
“Mrs. James, I assure you that he’ll never be dropped out of school.” I said firmly.
“How can you be so sure, Sabrina?” She stared at me. I thought I could see tears glistening in those brown eyes that reminded me so much of Lee’s. “You have no idea how much he has changed into what he once was back in England. I mean, he was fine when he was with you back then. You had really made him changed for the better. Honestly, Sabrina, I’ve never seen a girl done something like that to him. Sure, he had had a lot of girlfriends in the past but they were never like you. You’re just different, Sabrina. You actually inspired him to be a better person. You should’ve seen how miserable he had been when you two broke up, of which I couldn’t find the reason why up until now….” Mrs. James kept on staring at me expectantly.
I looked at her uncomfortably as I thought about seeing Heidi at her house with Lee. How could I explain to her? I found myself questioning inside my mind. “Mrs. James….” I was just about to tell her that if possible, I really did not want to talk about it but a slow, timid voice interrupted before I could go on, “Sabrina?” I turned to the direction of the voice and so did Mrs. James. I was surprised to see Heidi standing there in front of my house gate, looking at me sadly in awkwardness.
“Heidi?” I wrinkled my forehead.
“Is that your friend?” I heard Mrs. James asked then she continued, “I guess I won’t bother your time with your friend. I’ll go inside now.” She squeezed my hand with a smile and went inside the house before I could stop her.
I went to stand in front of Heidi, frowning. What was she doing here in front of my house? I expected the usual cold look she would always give me each time we met but all I could find on her pale face was a look of awkward modesty tinged with sadness.
“I’m sorry if this is a bad time and that you’re probably surprised to see me, of all people, coming here to see you….” She began awkwardly, not daring to meet my eyes for a while. “But… it’s just that… well, this may sound weird to you, but I have to see you for—for Lee’s sake.”
“Lee?” I shot up an eyebrow in astonishment. “What happened, Heidi?” I asked, more interested at the mention of Lee.
“Well, you know how Lee has changed these few miserable months—God, you have no idea how much he has changed into this person I barely know anymore!” She blurted out in desperation. “I mean, before this, he has always been nice, charming and friendly but… but just these few months, he was suddenly not himself. He turned cold and acted as if he did not care about the world around him. Then he started hanging around with the bad crowd like Roy and his gang—oh, you know the rest of the story, Sabrina! You heard yourself what Mrs. Ng said today that Lee would probably get kicked out of school.”
“No, he’s not.” I said with an air of confidence as I just stared at her pleading eyes unfeelingly.
Heidi stared at me back, as if in awe. She bowed her head again. “Well, I hope so.” Her voice softened into a whisper before she lifted her eyes up again at me, “Sabrina, you have no idea how I’ve tried to advise him not to do all those things he did with Roy but he never listen to me. It’s like… it’s like he’s feeling lost and wanting to give up on life. It’s like there’s nothing in the world appeals to him anymore. Sabrina, I’m worried for him and I know you’re concerned about him, too. I mean, I just know by the way you tried to defend him in front of Mrs. Ng in class today.”
I had to look away. “What do you want from me, Heidi?”
“Sabrina, I know we’ve never been good friends with each other but I need you to make Lee change back to his old self again.”
“Me?” I stared at her. “Heidi, you know very well that we barely speak to each other anymore.” Then I tried to look away again before saying in a softer tone, “Besides, you’re his girlfriend, aren’t you? Of course he’ll eventually listen to you. It’s you that he wants from the very beginning, anyway.” I felt a heavy lump in my throat as I uttered those words. It was a painful confession yet I knew I had to face the fact eventually.
“No, it’s not me.” Heidi paused. She took a deep breath before she finally said, “It’s you. Sabrina, I’m not his girlfriend—I’ve never been his girlfriend.”
I stared at her, completely shocked. “W—what? What do you mean?”
“I’ve never been his girlfriend, Sabrina. It’s true. I wish I was but he never let me.” Heidi bowed her head mournfully. “In fact, he’s never been interested in any girl other than you, Sabrina. Yes, sure, I’ve tried to seduce him a lot of times but it’s always you that he wants, Sabrina. It’s always been you from the very beginning. And I can’t help hating you for that. We never really get along well with each other and that’s why it feels easier for me to hate you more and more at the time. I’ve tried hard to impress him and make him like me as more than a friend but of course I failed—he’s too much into you, Sabrina. He’s been into you for years and years and I hated you. I really hated you. I mean, no guy has ever rejected me, you know that, too, don’t you? I felt like a total loser. I felt like a fool for me—the so-called queen of the school losing a guy to just an ordinary simple, modest girl like you. I just could not see why Lee could not accept me. I felt like I lost my pride. It hurt like hell. Then I thought of a plan to come to his house to show up in his doorway when you knocked on his door to break you two up. And it worked, didn’t it?” There was a hint of remorse on her face that was dabbed with natural make-up. “I thought then that I could have Lee all by myself after succeeding in breaking you two up. But how wrong I was! Sabrina, Lee had never been the same ever since. I had never seen him being so lost before. He started isolating himself, skipping school and did all the things he was not supposed to do….”
I just stared at Heidi, wide-eyed with shock. I was left completely speechless for a moment that seemed to last in eternity.
“Sabrina, now I’m asking you to go back to him. Console him. You’re the only one who can make him listen. I know we’ve never been on good terms with each other but just this once… please do this for Lee’s sake. I can’t stand seeing him being so miserable and hopeless. Sabrina, if you do care…”
Still overwhelmed with shock, I slowly shook my head, “I can’t go back to him, Heidi. You know I’m with Shawn. I can’t just simply leave him….”
“Sabrina, Lee needs you.” The arrogance that once haunted her fierce brown eyes was no longer there—only sincere sparkles of hope pleading to be fulfilled. “I know you still care about him too, somewhere deep in your heart. I realise now that I’ll never have him that I can’t compete against you to have him. He’s always been yours, Sabrina. I know this sounds weird but I’ve never felt like this over a guy before. I just want what’s best for him and I’m willing to let go if that’s what it takes. You’ll always have him, Sabrina.” She smiled tenderly yet I could not help wondering if she was actually veiling the hurt that she was suffering inside. I realised that the girl standing before me now was not the old, arrogant, superficial Heidi I knew back then anymore but a wise, humble girl wholly conquered by love. It was a miracle how love could transform a person in such a way.
Slowly, Heidi took my hand in hers with the pleading look never leaving her eyes. “Sabrina, I’m sorry for all those mean things I said or did. Now only I’ve realised how I had been so shallow, so foolish, so judgemental, so immature… so mean, so hypocrite—ugh!”
“That’s really okay, Heidi.” My stony expression finally broke into a sincere smile. “I wanted to apologise too for….”
“Shh… you did nothing, silly!” She silenced me with a smile “I hope we can friends after this. Forget all about the past.”
I nodded smilingly. “Yes, of course.”
“Now, what you should do later is go to Lee. He’s going to race tonight with Roy and his gang at the road in front of our school.”
“He’s going to race?” I could not believe my ears.
Heidi nodded sadly. “I eavesdropped on Roy’s conversation with his friends today during break at school… Sabrina, please stop him. You’re the only one who can stop him.” Seeing the doubtful expression upon my face, she gently took my hand again with a hopeful smile, “Sabrina, do this for me, please—for our new friendship and for Lee… for all those memories you had with him… you know you want to….”