Love Happens

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Letting In and Second First Dates

“What exactly happened to you and Ronnie?” Was the first thing that he asked after a long stretch of silence.

When I was done speaking, Axel had allowed me enough time to think and reflect back on everything I had said. I waited for the guilt and discomfort of revealing my deepest secrets out to set in but it didn’t. Instead, I felt something else - something I wasn’t expecting to feel.

I felt free.

Yeah, I know. Weird, right? I was just wondering what it would feel like to be free and now I was almost there. It felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of my chest and it felt good sharing it with someone. The someone being Axel didn’t bother me at all. Instead, it brought a strange kind of relief to my heart.

“What?” I ask rhetorically.

He turns to look at me from his lying position beside me. “To your friendship. How did it end?”

I swallow a whole lot of saliva and look back at the stars blinking down at us. “I don’t know. I guess it never really ended and at the same time, it did. We just drifted apart when Sean came around. And I didn’t even realize that we weren’t talking anymore until very later. And after that, I guess I was waiting for her to make the first move and maybe she was waiting for me. And neither of us did. We didn’t get to say our goodbyes to that friendship we shared as kids but we didn’t even have a friendship to share as grown ups.”

Axel sighed beside me. “Wow. I guess that makes sense.”

“Does it?” I ask.

He chuckles. “Not really.”

I let out a breath. “But you know, I never stopped thinking of her as my best friend. For me, it had always been her. I thought she was the only person aside from Sean who could know me better than myself. Even with Tracy, I didn’t get that sense of closeness. And even if I did, I didn’t allow it to grow. Tracy would always introduce me as her best friend but I never returned the feeling and she always knew that. Deep down, she had always been aware of that. And that is what makes her special, you know? She stayed by me fulfilling her duties as a best friend when she knew I didn’t return the feeling. She stayed despite me not accepting her as my best friend. And I guess that makes her more special than a best friend.”

“And Maggie - that girl - she didn’t even know me when she arrived at the school and joined our little group but she chose to believe in me instead of the rumors floating around the school. She gave me her shoulder to cry on without knowing, without asking why I was crying. And Kevin - he game back in my life as the same old friend I used to play with in my backyard as a kid. He didn’t give me looks filled with pity and he didn’t mock me just because the golden boy of the school had dumped me for the school’s nerd. He didn’t see me as a broken girl or the Ice Queen Bitch but a girl with feelings and emotions.”

“And my family - Lord, they’ve been so supportive. They never pressured me into anything, you know? They just let me know that they’ll be there whenever I needed them and even if they were hurting because of me, they loved me still the same. It’s them that gave me hope and made me believe that I could love back while hurting too. Then there’s you and Emilia - the girl is such a bubble of energy that she makes me feel active and fresh all the time, like nothing could go wrong. And with you, things are so different. I swear I forget about everything that has happened when I’m in that cafe with you - as if I’m in another dimension where everything’s perfect. You all have been so good to me, I don’t even deserve you guys.”

“Stop saying that, would you?” Axel snaps suddenly but his eyes soften at the sudden, surprised look on my face. “Don’t say you don’t deserve the people who love you. You won’t have them in your life if you didn’t. In fact, you deserve so much more. And that boy who left you - trust me, it was his loss.”

I avert my gaze from his, not knowing how to reply to that. Was it really Sean’s loss? Because his happiness with Ronnie didn’t seem like a loss to me. I’m not saying this as a bitter person who doesn’t want others to be happy just because she is sad. I’m saying it because I’m jealous of them. I want to be happy like that too - if not with somebody then with myself at least.

“What did you love about that boy?” He asks after a long stretch of silence.

“Hmm?” I ask, my mind a little disoriented making me unsure if I heard him correctly.

“You said you loved him. Tell me about it.”

I get nostalgic as soon as his question is absorbed by my brain and I’m already on the memory lane before I can even think about it. “Sean -” I chuckle slightly, remembering the first time I had met him. ” - that boy - he had made my heart flutter since the first time I laid my eyes on him. Messy blonde hair, ocean blue eyes, that dimpled smile - I was attracted and infatuated by everything about him. His kind and approachable personality was just a bonus. I even thought I was going to spend my forever with him, I loved him that much.”

Sean Cooper was, is the golden boy of our school. The guy who is loved with everybody. You know the term perfection? Yeah, Sean Cooper is just a synonym for that.

The boy with sandy blonde hair, deep blue eyes, mouth watering body, perfect grades and Varsity Basketball team captain. He was basically a male counterpart of me sans the sports. I was not really and sports person and cheer leading did not ever interest me. I was too busy studying to get a scholarship to Harvard and completing my yearly birthday resolutions to indulge myself in the extra curricular.

Sean was always nice to people, even getting into fights with football jocks who used to bully the kids who preferred studies over parties. I stood up against cheer leaders who’s pick up on girls who were not interested in wearing clothes that showed skin or makeup. People said we’re just the perfect couple, the ‘it’ couple, the Golden Couple (though it might have to do with both our blond heads) and so on.

The summer I met him was one of the best summers of my life. Sean was the step-son of one of the businessmen on the ship. He was my age and we soon isolated ourselves from the elders as soon as we met. He was the cutest boy I had seen and I spent the whole week of the excursion with him.

Returning home I realized that I missed him too much. I met him again five months later at my school as a new transfer student. He had surprised me by hugging me as soon as he saw me. Honestly, I hadn’t thought he’d remember me but he did.

I introduced him to Ronnie, my best friend but he made it clear that he didn’t want to do anything with her. I didn’t remember him being so rude but I dismissed that thought, too happy seeing him again to think about other rational things.

Sean and I grew closer the more time we spent together since then and he opened up to me. He told me his deepest secrets, including the death of his mother. He told me that he had begged, cried, adjured his step father to send him to this town because he remembered me telling him where I lived. He told me that after his mother’s death, he just didn’t want to interact with anyone and was tired of all the “I’m Sorry’s” so he came here.

Imagine my happiness upon hearing that the boy I was crushing on came all the way to this small town to be near me. I decided that if he was tired of hearing “I’m Sorry’s” then I won’t let him hear that again.

Instead, I told him to speak. And that’s what he did. He spoke, he kept talking and poured his heart out in front of me, told me everything that was about him and then listened to me as i did the same. I came to know him inside out within just a few months and I grew closer to him than I was with my best friend Ronnie.

I realized I was in love with him sooner than that I had thought. He was just perfect. After flushing his bottled up feelings on me in which I happily drowned, he came back to his normal self, being the sweet and cute boy he was.

He soon became everyone’s favorite - the teachers loved him, boys adored him and girls crushed on him. I was always there, smiling, smirking, grinning that he was mine.

His presence in my life, however, minused Ronnie’s presence. Where I was always available for her before, now all my time was spent on and with Sean. Even when I already had plans with her, one call from Sean and I would just run to him. And the other times that I was able to be with Ronnie, I would just be gushing about what an amazing person Sean was. Nobody knew him like I did and the thought itself made me giddy.

Slowly and eventually, Ronnie distanced herself from me and before I could even know, we were no more friends. It was a breakup without a goodbye. There were no more calls, no more texts and no more meetings, sleepovers or whatsoever. There were no more Leah and Ronnie.

It was just Sean and I. Sean and Leah.

Instead of mourning over losing my friend, I was happy to spend every spare second of my life with the boy I loved. Bitchy, I know, but I was blinded by love. I wanted to be better for Sean, I wanted to be compatible for him. I copied him in every aspect I could so I could be worthy of being his girl.

Instead of being one of those popular girls who bullied, I learnt from Sean and stood up against the bullies. Seeing him being nice to everyone, I did the same. Yes, I did it all for him but it felt nice from within when someone smiled and thanked me. I became popular without even wanting it. And Sean and I became a couple without any words exchanged. He had just upped and kissed me once after his basketball match during freshman year and since then, I was the only subject to his kisses. We never discussed it but I was his girlfriend and he was my boyfriend. That’s how we introduced each other.

I was happy. Content with whatever I had because I used to think that love needs no words. How stupid of me, really.

Anyway, my parents loved Sean too. It was hard not to like him. Grant and him became best friends. Sean was automatically made a part of my family. It all fell into place naturally.

It was all perfect.

It was all beautiful.

I was happy.

We were happy.

Until the day we weren’t.

Axel lets out a deep breath of air as if getting something out of his system. He is silent for a very long time and just when I’m sure he won’t speak anymore, after all, I was talking about my ex-boyfriend when I was supposed to be on a date with him, he opens his mouth, shocking me. “You remind me of my mother, you know?” He says and I turn towards him, frowning.

“Your mother?” I ask.

“Uh Hmm.” He hums. “Your story is so much like hers. She was a wreck when Dad left us too, for another woman. She also thought that she didn’t deserve the love of people around her, that she wasn’t worth staying for. She was so hung up on my dad that she stopped living her life, and she didn’t realize when she lost herself because of him. She was a pathetic mess until my stepdad came along.”

Ouch. Is it bad that he compared me to his mother and basically said that I’m a pathetic mess?

He turns to look at me and his eyes widen in realization of what he said. “No, Leah, I didn’t mean it like that!” He says.

“It’s fine.” I say, smiling a tight lipped smile.

He shakes his head and sits up, pulling on my hands and making me sit too. He hunches on his knees, facing me. “What I meant is that you remind me of my mother but you aren’t like her.” His words make me frown and he sighs before softly taking my face in his large hands. “You’re so different than her. The only similarity is that your story is a lot alike. But you - Leah you’re so much stronger than her. She lost herself after my Dad left while here, I see you desperately trying to hold back on the small, lose threat that attaches you to you to keep yourself from losing, even though it’s hard.”

His words bring tears to my eyes again. “You are a mess too, Leah, but you didn’t let it ruin you. My mom, she was her own catalyst. She destroyed herself by being co-dependent on another man to show her that she was lovable. But you, Leah, you know how to love yourself. And you know how to love the people that surround you. It takes strength to let the light conquer your darkness, baby, and you’re so, so strong. You’re a disincentive and you will save yourself, I know you will.”

Baby, he called me baby.

He kisses my forehead softly and pulls me in his arms. “Just promise me one thing, darling?”

Darling? Oh Lord, my heart might just explode.

“What?” I whisper in a hoarse voice, my head still on his chest.

“Promise me that you won’t ever let your worth be decided because of another person in your life - specially another man. You are worth everything in this world and those who can’t see and realize that might as well rot alone without you.”

I sigh and wrap my arms around his waist. I wasn’t planning to, is what I want to say now when I know how it feels like to be heartbroken by a guy. But the feeling of promising something to this particular boy is what I want to feel. “I promise.” I say instead.

He kisses the top of my head again. “You will be okay one day, baby, I promise.”

We lay down side by side, his arms wrapped around me, holding me close and my head on his chest, listening to his soft heartbeat beating under my palm.

It feels like a perfect second first date.

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