“MY SHORT-LIVED CINDERELLA DREAMS”

“MY SHORT-LIVED ‘CINDERELLA DREAMS’: THE WEEKEND WITH STEEL BLUE EYES”

Saturday (12/9/2015):
I’d been anxious since Friday night. It had been a year and ten months since I last saw him.
I rushed to Setiabudi One after work. There he was, sitting in front of the fountain. He was wearing a T-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. I didn’t care; I was very glad to see him. I was in my work attire: a green T-shirt, a red skirt, a black blazer, and pumps. I was also wearing my sunglasses because it was outdoor.
“Hey, how are you?” he greeted warmly as we quickly embraced. He kissed both my cheeks. “You’re looking great.”
“So are you,” I replied with a smile as I gazed up at him. Always, I added silently. He’s always been that attractive to me despite his age – like some aging rockstar. (He’s 55, by the way.) I’ve always loved his greyish white hair, his beautiful steel blue eyes, and his sweet, warm smile.
And I love his sense of humour. Those who meet him for the first time usually assume that he’s quiet and serious, but wait until they get to know him better. He’s smart, talkative, and funny too.
We hung out at Anomali Coffee for a while, catching up with each other. He bought me coffee, like he used to do when there were only us hanging out.
At first, we’d planned to catch up with Vince and Vinny and friends after that. Our original plan was to have dinner at Pancoran Steakhouse.
However, judging from the usual traffic on the weekends, they decided to just change it to watching football at Aphrodite’s after dinner. I shrugged and said okay.
His steel blue eyes looked a bit bloodshot. He told me he’d been awake since six in the morning for his flight. When he asked me if he could catch a couple of hours of sleep before our dinner that night, I simply nodded. So we got up and left the coffee-shop. He walked me back to my rented room, just like last year before he left for Bali. I was impressed that he still remembered exactly where I live.
“I’ll pick you up at nine tonight,” he said as we hugged and he kissed my cheek. “It’s nice to see you again.”
“Yeah, me too,” I replied. Then he waited until I got in safely behind the gate before walking back to his rented room at an inn nearby…
-***-
As promised, he picked me up at nine.
I wasn’t sure of what I was wearing that night: the same red skirt, an orange football jersey-like top (not for real sport), and black slippers. When I finally got downstairs to meet up with him, he was well-dressed. (IMO.) A Hawaiian shirt, black trousers and shoes.
“You’re so well-dressed!” I exclaimed, suddenly feeling self-conscious. I realised that I must’ve looked (and felt) more like an immature little girl going out with her dad – instead of a grown woman going out with someone she has deep feelings for. “Uh, should I change?”
“Aw, no. What do you mean I’m ‘well-dressed’?” He looked at his outfit, then held my hands sticking out between the gate’s railings. We exchanged smiles; I was all giddy with excitement and nervousness. “This is nothing. Come on, you look great. No need to change. Now, out.”
I didn’t know if he’d said that just to ease my mind or because he wouldn’t want to wait longer so that I could change. Perhaps the latter or he just didn’t care.
Still, I obeyed him anyway.
We were walking down the street that night, side by side – him and I. We were talking, sharing tales and jokes, and giggling. It was like a dream come true to me. I wasn’t sure about calling it a date, although it felt like that – with him picking me up and paying for our dinner. We had ours at a dine-in called “Matahari” (which means “Sun” – where we used to hang out too.)
After dinner, we crossed the street to Aphrodite’s. We sat there waiting for Vince and his crew. He ordered beer while I chose ginger ale.
Then at last, they turned up. Vince and Vinny. Alex and Opi. Justin and Sara. Colm, Craig, and Paul.
The wives gathered, while I mostly talked to the guys. Honestly, I’m not much of a football fan – and neither is Alex. He’s from Wales and prefers rugby. The tall, bald guy with glasses also talked about his two kids (Aisha and Baby Brynn) while I told him about my writing career. I laughed at his story about Aisha playing with her mom’s lipstick, painting the new, pristine-looking white walls of their newly redecorated house. I cringed at his story about Baby Brynn tugging at his chest hair.
Ouch.
“Anyway, you seem happier,” said Alex seriously. “Much happier than the last time we met.”
Which was last year. I still kept my smile when I said, “Probably my writing career.” It was half-true. The other half would be the person I was going out with that night.
“That’s good.”
Vince had said a lot of things too that night:
“You stand between the east and the west – and understand how both worlds work. You have your own opinions too, but you also know how to be neutral and non-judgmental.”
“Thanks, Vince.” I smiled at the tall, lean redhead. “But I believe I’m not the only one.”
“Oh, I know that,” Vince agreed. He looked even more serious now. “But you’re different from most people I know – both Western and Indonesian. You seem to be getting along well with everybody while standing your own ground, staying true to yourself.” Then, frowning a little before beaming again, he suddenly added brightly, “I think you should be in politics. Seriously, this country needs more people like you!”
I gulped. “Really?” I might have a very short career, if that is the case. Not only I hate politics, but I might get killed for being ‘too honest’ and ‘less diplomatic’.
“Yes.” Vince was more serious now. “This country needs more people like you.”
My heart warmed up a little. I patted his long arm.
“Thanks, Vince,” I said again. “You’re so sweet.”
“I love you too,” he replied cheerfully as we bumped fists. “Tony loves you too.” I didn’t know what my expression was like to him, because he quickly added, “Uh, as a friend.”
“Of course.” Yeah, what was I thinking anyway?
“Although I think Tony should marry you.”
“Huh??” Okay, that really took me by surprise. I blinked at Vince, not knowing how to respond to that. From the corner of my eye, Tony B. was sitting close by – his steel blue eyes were on us as he drank. Despite the noise in the bar, Vince was still loud enough for everyone to hear.
“Yeah, it’s true,” Vince persisted, unaware of my nervousness. I couldn’t look at Tony B. “I think you and Tony should marry each other!”
I laughed, the most spontaneous reaction. Thank God for the dim lights in the bar, or he might have noticed the redness in my cheeks already – since I felt my face grow suspiciously warm.
“Where’d you get that idea?” I challenged Vince, still laughing. The tall redhead in front of me just shrugged.
“It’s not a bad idea.”
Something started forming in my throat and I breathed deeply.
Ooh, Vince. No, it isn’t. If only you knew…
Unfortunately, Liverpool lost the game to Manchester: 1 – 3. There was a lot of yelling and cursing that night, especially after the match. Most were rooting for Liverpool (including him, who’s also from there). Except Paul, who’s an MU fan, and Alex, who prefers rugby.
We’d stayed a while after the game while everybody left – one by one. Alex had bent down to kiss both my cheeks, him being the tall Welsch and me being the short Indonesian. Tony B. and I had agreed with Vince to meet at his apartment before going to Duma’s wedding on Sunday evening.
By the time we exited Aphrodite’s, it was already past 2:00 pm. He asked me whether I’d prefer riding a cab home or walking. Of course, I chose the latter.
“Are you sure?” When I nodded and smiled, he shrugged and said, “Okay.”
So, off we went. It was a long, quiet walk in the dead of the night. I intend to keep this memory last. I don’t care how it might turn out in the end. I’m already thankful enough for these rare moments…
Somewhere along the way, he started talking about her. His ex-girlfriend Risna, who’d broken up with him last year. The single mom who often has to leave her daughter behind for work, because her job involves a lot of travelling.
“It’s not easy for them,” he said sadly. “The kid always cries whenever she has to leave.”
You know how this goes; my heart simply went out. To him, to her and her kid. His steel blue eyes were sparkling suspiciously behind his glasses.
“I know we’re not together anymore, but we’re still good friends,” he went on. “I still help her whenever I can.”
You still love her, I silently realised with a pang in my heart.
“I still have feelings for her. I’ll do anything for her.”
By the time we reached the building where I live, we hugged and he kissed my cheek.
“It’s so good to see you,” he said softly, and the sight of him – so strong and so vulnerable at the same time – was so beautiful and choking. I found myself fighting back my own tears. “See you tomorrow.”
“Okay,” I managed a weak reply. He waited until I got in safely again, like a gentleman that he always is.
He wasn’t aware that I was still standing on the front porch, watching him walk away. Something warm was in my eyes, blurring my sight.
“I think you and Tony should marry each other…”
For once, that idea sounds endearing. However, I’m not stupid. There are many in this mortal life that you should never have hoped or longed for in the first place, no matter how badly you’d wanted them.
“I still have feelings for her…I’ll do anything for her…”
I cried myself to sleep.

Sunday (13/9/2015):
I woke up feeling weird. My eyes were thick and dry. My face looked puffy as I stared at the mirror.
After lunch, I went to buy a pair of shoes for the wedding. After that, at around 2:00 pm he texted me:
“Hi, will pick u up @4, ok?”
“Ok.” Oh, I only had two hours to prepare before he turned up. Time to run back to my room!
-***-
Thanks to Ananda, my friend who lives in the same building, my face didn’t look so plain anymore with her make-up. She’d even lent me her blue purse that matched my dress for that evening.
He’d been sitting at the front porched when I stepped out. He was wearing a nice-looking batik shirt, black trousers and shoes.
He turned to me, smiled, and got up. I smiled back at him as he kissed both my cheeks.
“You’re looking great,” he complimented me. “Shall we?”
“Thanks. Yeah, sure.” Then I quickly added, “You’re looking great too.”
We fetched a cab and went to Vince’s apartment.
-***-
And we got there too early. The wedding started at seven and it was barely five.
That’s why we were hanging out at Vince’s apartment for a while. Munching snacks, drinking juice and water, talking while watching the news.
When it was time to go, the four of us left the apartment. The wedding was just right across the street, so we were walking there.
So, how was the wedding?
It went well. Duma and David looked so fantastic that night. They sang a duet too, with David playing guitar on stage.
The food was great, but I wasn’t too hungry. (It was probably from the snack we’d munched back at Vince’s apartment.) We took pictures with the newlyweds too.
Tony B. and I had left a message for the couple on the canvas board by the entrance, along with other scrawls of messages:

“May God guide you with His Grace,
now, forever, and always.”

(Ruby & Tony)

When my brotherly best friend Hazel Eyes showed up with L, I automatically gave each of them a hug. Hazel Eyes saw something in my eyes and frowned.
“Are you okay?”
I nodded, but said, “I’ll tell you later.”
“Okay.”
I was determined more than ever to just enjoy the rest of the night with Tony B. and everybody. As usual, time was short. Soon, my Cinderella dreams would be over.
His flight back to Bali would be the next day – Monday – at 8:00 pm…
-***-
We shared a cab with Vince and Vinny before dropping them off back at the apartment. Hazel Eyes and L had left earlier.
Dilah had thought that when I told her I was going to the wedding with Tony, it would’ve been ‘Hazel Eyes’. (Same name, different guys. Ha-ha!)
Tony B. and I had to ask the cab driver to drop us off about a quarter of block away from where I live. We walked back there together.
“So, what are you doing tomorrow?” he suddenly asked me. After I mentioned my schedule, he invited me, “Would you like to join Dilah and me for lunch?”
“Yes,” I answered without a second thought. Just like that. He smiled and kissed my cheek.
“See you tomorrow at around twelve,” he said. “You’ll come to the school too, right?”
“Yeah.”
“Cool.”
“Thanks so much for this weekend.” And I wonder if I’ll ever be this lucky again, I silently added. He smiled again.
“It’s been great to see you.” He was about to walk away when he remembered something, so he stopped. I was still fetching for my keys inside the purse when he said, “Oh.”
“I know.” I laughed a little, but my heart just warmed up at his gesture. As I was unlocking the gate, I told him, “Just because a girl is a feminist doesn’t mean she doesn’t appreciate these things from guys.”
“Ah, this has nothing to do with sex – unless what those so-called feminists would say,” he replied, slightly amused by his statement. “This is caring.”
“I know.” I smiled at him gratefully as I let myself in. “And I really appreciate this. I don’t mind if a guy pays for my dinner too.”
“My mother taught me all this.” He smiled earnestly and sounded proud that I’d wanted to tell him: I’m glad she did. I wish I could tell her now that she’s raised an amazingly sweet gentleman of a son.
“Thanks again.”
“Good night.”
“Night.” Just like before, he was unaware that I was still watching him go. Once he was out of sight, I went into the building and closed the door behind me.

Monday (14/9/2015):
Once again, I surprised Dilah by coming to the school during lunch hour.
“What are you doing here?”
“Err…preparing for Saturday classes?” I replied carefully. So, he hadn’t told her that I was coming too. I wasn’t sure how she’d react if I told her, but I didn’t have to wait long to find out. She was checking her phone with a frown.
“It’s past twelve,” she muttered. “Where’s Tony?”
“Probably still asleep,” I automatically speculated. She looked at me.
“Yeah, probably,” she agreed. Then it hit her. “Wait, you’re coming to have lunch with us?”
“Yeah,” I said carefully and nodded. “He asked me to come here first so I’ll just prepare for my Saturday classes while waiting for him instead.”
“Oh, okay.” Dilah gave me the “Why-didn’t-you-say-so?” look, but once again I just shrugged.
Tony B. finally turned up at 12:30. The three of us went to Setiabudi One to catch up with Okeu and Mike – our two friends and colleagues from Bandung. We had lunch at Imperial Cakery, one of my favourite restaurants there.
From the talk, I learned that Tony B. would be returning here shortly to conduct a training. Am I happy? Oh, yeah.
Too bad Dilah had to return to work. Okeu and Mike had to book a travel bus back to Bandung. Tony B. looked at me.
“What time’s your class?”
“At five, in Kuningan City.” It was still 2:00 pm.
“Would you like to join me for coffee before I go?” he asked me. “After Okeu and Mike book the travel bus?”
“Sure.” I only had time until four, so why not? I followed the three of them all the way to Pasar Festival.
It turned out that the travel bus they booked would leave at 4:15. It was still 2:30. There was still more than enough time, so Okeu and Mike joined Tony B. and I at the coffee-shop with the least flattering name I’ve ever read: D’Stupid Bakery. No joke.
But Okeu and Mike said they didn’t feel like drinking, so they saved a table for us while Tony B. and I headed to the counter, ordering latte. Again, he paid for both of us.
“Thanks,” I said. He shrugged.
“That’s okay.”
The four of us sat and chatted again for a while, with him and I sipping our latte. I saw a writing on the coffee-shop wall:
“Love gives you everything and expects nothing.” Kind of cheesy, but I nudged Tony B. anyway and pointed at it.
“What do you think?”
He read quickly before smiling…sardonically.
“I think it’s the opposite,” he stated. “Love demands everything and leaves you with nothing.”
Ouch. I laughed half-heartedly. He laughed too before saying: “Aren’t we such cynics or what?”
Not really, I’d wanted to say. Maybe Vince is right; it’s not a bad idea. I know I’m still a kid in a way, but maybe you can teach me.
“Did you hear what Vince said last Saturday night?” Okay, hope against hope.
“Yeah.” He nodded and grinned at me, his steel blue eyes sparkling mischievously. “I agree with Vince. This country needs more people like you; people with integrity.”
Oh, okay. What about his “other” idea?
Even if he’d heard that part too, he never brought it up. I didn’t dare ask. Coward.
Mike had this random idea of singing at the karaoke place for an hour before returning to Bandung, so we followed suit. Since Tony B. had wanted me to sing too since Duma’s wedding, here’s my random songlist that day:

– “All About Loving You” by. Bon Jovi
– “Summer of ‘69” by. Bryan Adams
– “Somebody To Love” by.Queen
– “The Reason” by. Hoobastank
– “All Of Me” by.John Legend

We finally said goodbye to Okeu and Mike before they got on the travel bus. Then Tony B. and I went crossing the bridge. He’d need to pack his stuff before his flight that night, while I needed to rush to my class.
We stopped by at the ojek corner. (Ojek: motorcycle taxi.) I told him that if he really came back the month after for the training session, I’d like to hang out with him again – that if he wasn’t too busy. He said he’d like that too and would make the time, since the training probably wouldn’t last all day.
Then, the final hug. I stood on tiptoe and whispered in his ear:
“Be happy.”
“You too,” he replied and kissed my cheek. I hopped on an ojek’s bike and put on the helmet. After that, as I was riding away, I saw him blowing me a kiss. I automatically returned the gesture.
“Be happy because I love you so much and want you to be,” I’d wanted to tell him that, but I was still a coward. Maybe I’m a hypocrite too, because I’d rather see him get back together with Risna if still possible. I don’t care if it might be killing me on the inside. Anything, as long as he doesn’t have that sad look on his face anymore.
Anything…

“I still have feelings for her…I’ll do anything for her…”
“I think you and Tony should marry each other…”
If friends ask me about that weekend with him, I’ll just let them read this. I can’t talk about this, because I’m afraid I might start crying – and it’ll be very, very difficult for me to just stop…

R.

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