I’m so glad you made time to see me.
Tell me, how’s your family?
I haven’t seen them in a while.
“—have to get out sometimes, you know.” Piper drawls through the phone. Annabeth can hear the whirring of her blender in the background. She hasn’t had her morning veggie smoothie yet, but she is already hovering over Annabeth like a mother hen.
“I am out,” Annabeth re-adjusts her scarf with one hand as she struggles to hold her phone between her shoulder and chin while simultaneously trying to keep her bag from falling off her other shoulder. She needs to have her coffee so bad.
“Walking the short distance to work doesn’t count as being out, Annabeth.” Piper turns her blender off so Annabeth can hear her early morning jazz music playing in the background this time.
She sighs. Taking her phone in her hand, she opens her mouth to beg her to please let her have her coffee before she nags her ear out. “Piper—p” she starts but is immediately interrupted.
“Okay, okay, I’ll get off your hair ---for now. I know you haven’t had your fill yet so I’ll drop it.” She concedes. Annabeth sighs in relief. “Anyway, the real reason I called---“
“Oh, so pestering me wasn’t the ulterior motive, yet?”
Piper ignores the comment. “---is to inform you about Friday night.”
“What’s Friday night?”
“Grover and Juniper are inviting us to a get-together in this new bar a couple blocks from their apartment.” She explains. Annabeth’s brow arches for a second because Grover and Juniper don’t do bars, as far as she remembers. Is she really that outdated when it comes to her friends? “Apparently, Grover and the owner go way back and after hearing about his upcoming big event, he assures free entrance and free drinks to his and Juniper’s friends. Grover didn’t decline; thinks it’s a great way to catch up again.”
“Oh,” Annabeth bites her lip in hesitation.
“You’re not allowed to say no to this one, Annabeth.” Piper quickly adds as if hearing her thoughts. “We’re going to be discussing stuff for the wedding, too.”
She pictures the mountain of paperwork piling up in her table that requires her undivided attention this Friday night (and all other Friday nights before that and maybe the next Friday nights after, too). But she also thinks of her friends. She hasn’t seen them in a while. She has already turned down few other invitations of a get-together for her work.
Then again, she can’t put aside her friends this time especially that Grover and Juniper are getting married the next weekend. Probably, her mind whispers, it is nigh time she gets her Friday nights back.
“Yeah, I’ll be there.”
There’s a heartbeat of silence that follows Annabeth’s declaration. She imagines her friend’s mouth to be hanging open in surprise. Piper might be expecting a little argument to ensue before getting her to agree to go---you know, like the normal scenario.
“Umm, o-okay…” Piper stammers, still taken aback. “But be sure to really come.” She warns.
Annabeth chuckles at that. At the back of her mind, she thinks she should be a little offended at the mistrust but she plays it off coolly. It’s her fault Piper is wary of her just agreeing with no fight, anyway. She rarely agrees without a fight. Well, she rarely agrees at all. But she does fight very often.
“Yeah, I’ll be there. I promise, Pipes.” She finds herself sincere about going, and maybe even a little excited to see her friends again. She just hopes she didn’t miss too much of their lives that somebody is getting married from their group again without her knowing they were even dating in the first place. Well, she did think Grover and Juniper would end up together eventually. They are just perfect for each other. She was just a little floored to receive the wedding invitation out of the blue without any warning, is all. “I do want to see you all again, you know. It would be a really pleasant change of scenery. I feel like a thousand different building designs are tattooed at the back of my eyelids already and they’re giving me a headache.”
“One look at a blueprint and you’re high as a kite, Annie. It doesn’t give you a headache, it gives you an orgasm.” Annabeth blushes but doesn’t defend herself. “But A for effort. You miss us and you’re guilty for passing on our previous invitations. Get it.”
Annabeth laughs. She can really depend on Piper to brighten up her day ---well, when she isn’t busy pestering her on stuffs Annabeth has absolutely no business with, like dating, that is. But she’s definitely a breath of fresh air.
“I can already see me having fun this Friday,” Annabeth says.
Piper’s breath hitches, barely recognizable over the phone, but she didn’t miss it. Piper stays silent for a while, as if remembering something that she has yet to tell Annabeth. She rounds the corner to Starbucks and pauses in her tracks, waiting for Piper to speak again.
Piper sighs on the other end and from all the years Annabeth has known her friend, she knows that that sigh means that she is holding back something from her.
“Just…be there, okay?” She sounds reluctant about something Annabeth can’t pinpoint what but firm and final on her request. Annabeth chooses not to bother her with it. For today, at least.
Annabeth pushes the door open to Starbucks. The smell of freshly brewed coffee immediately wafts into her nostrils as a welcome invasion. She instantly feels calm. She can take on a hundred blueprints and even join in with the construction at the level of energy that is surging in her veins in that moment. And that was only from the smell of it, mind. A little overrated but she desperately needs to be kicked awake because the mashed potatoes --or at least she hopes is mashed potatoes, it could be mashed anything really, but she’s leaning on potatoes-- that she had this morning did nothing to appease her sour mood. She had slept late the previous evening (because of, guess what? WORK of course. She’s pretty predictable, eh?) and woken up with the blinds she forgot to close before sleeping because she just wanted to doze off so badly after almost 12 hours bent on her work. Last night wasn’t the first time she went home exhausted after a literally long day from work. But it was, in all her life, the first time she missed closing off the damn curtains. So, yeah, it is a bad day for her. And she needs positivity. Like 5 cups of it and tons of whipped cream on top of each.
She walks to the small queue of people lining up to order. After a quick glance at her wrist watch: it is only 30 minutes past 8 o’clock. She still has plenty of time. She thinks about sending Piper a message after her somewhat cryptic behavior over the phone, so she digs her bag for her mobile phone again. She holds up her mobile and the picture of her and Piper greets her as soon as she clicks it to life. She smiles. It’s a picture of them attending a silly Coachella themed party almost 3 years ago. Piper had dragged her along ranting about (A.) stop being a cave-person and (B.) your company’s not gonna sue you for actually living a normal life! and (C.) stop moping and fucking get laid, Annabeth. Well A and B went off the list that night and she did enjoy the party, hence, the big, toothy grin she had that was reflected on the souvenir photograph she had taken from that night. It was after that night that Piper began bugging her about letter C non-stop and pushed her to countless blind dates, speed dates, and even as far as online dating sites.
Frankly, Annabeth can live to her old age celibate. She’s had enough with getting laid and then breaking her heart in the process. And then breaking someone else’s heart while she’s on it. Nope. She’s had enough regrets to last her a lifetime. And maybe another lifetime, too. Yup, she could probably reincarnate into a spider after she dies and still carry the same old wounds.
“One Iced Latte Macchiato and a Blonde Caffe Latte, please.”
Annabeth almost drops her phone.
She whips her head up so fast there is a slight stinging in her neck from sudden exertion. Well, she hardly notices it though as the sound of her beating heart drowns out everything else in the room. A plane could have crashed down to the city behind her and she wouldn’t have any idea at all. No, her world literally narrows to one point at the front of the queue. Because she recognizes that voice. She hasn’t heard it in a long time ---in 6 years, to be exact--- but she will never be mistaken about that voice. Not even if ten thousand people order the same coffee on the same shop at the same exact moment, she will still be able to pick out that voice from any crowd. Heck, she’ll probably only hear his voice among others.
To be fair, how can she not focus on him when her heart is hardwired to pound like a madman at the slightest indication of his voice? It’s a battle that’s been won long ago. And certainly not by Annabeth.
She cranes her neck, which is still a little sore from earlier but Annabeth still doesn’t know it obviously, and follows the source of the deep, husky, and sweet voice.
And there he is.
Annabeth is done for. Again.
He’s standing at the side of the counter, waiting for his order to be served up. His fingers on one hand are drumming on the countertop and his other hand keeping it cool inside one of the pockets of his khaki pants. He’s alternately gnawing his lower lip and pouting it out and Annabeth would bet her company and their rival company that he doesn’t even know he’s doing that with his lips because he never knows he’s doing it EVER and she just can’t look away from the painful familiarity of it all.
She drinks in everything that is him from the plain, dark blue, button up shirt he’s wearing, his also dark blue sneakers (he always loved blue and all shades of it), his silver Rolex watch sitting cozily on his wrist, his windswept hair that always gives off this troublemaker aura (although the owner is anything but…sometimes) is still the same jet black color and is still grown to fall perfectly near his eyes…his eyes. Don’t even let Annabeth get started with his eyes. It’s not visible in her direction but she knows (from the way the ginger head behind him on the queue is eyeing him, trying to hypnotize his eyes –but doing poorly— to land on hers so they can stare each other to oblivion) that they are still the same vibrant, sea-green color that just shames all other. And from all exaggerations that she could be sued for that day, that one thing she will and cannot overemphasize. His eyes are the most breath-taking among the billion other pairs in the world. Period.
Gods, he looks amazing. Even more amazing than 6 years ago.
How can she have gone on with life after losing him all those years back?
Oh, right. She hasn’t gone on with life, at all.
She existed instead. She existed for her friend Piper to drag to parties and to set up with random guys in frail hopes of fixing her; for her boss to dump loads of projects to, disguising trust in ability for ‘nobody-is-too-interested-to-waste-a-weekend-for-this-because-they-have-a-life-outside-this-office-UNLIKE-you’; for her workmates to gossip about being so workaholic to the point of crazy; for Starbucks baristas to mistakenly write Annabelle on her Grande when she clearly emphasized ’Hi, I’m AnnaBETH’ with a hiss prerequisite to ordering; and for everyone else to pass her by.
How uneventful her life has become. She’s turned into a tedious old-maid at age 25 when she was out living it to the fullest (albeit negligently) just six years ago. The grandma living across her apartment has more social life and a more exciting love life than Annabeth. If the parties she host once a month for her high school friends batch 1968 and the grandpa that always stays behind to ’help clean up’ are any indications at all.
Maybe it’s really how the aftermath of a broken heart looks like. Maybe the consequence of a poorly-exercised pride is Annabeth’s life at 25.
The barista finally hands him his bag with a flirty smile. “Here you go, Peter.” Annabeth didn’t miss the paper that she slips inside the bag which she can only guess is her mobile number. He gets that a lot, Annabeth remembers. He politely returns the smile and takes his bag, allowing the scrap of paper to linger inside, but Annabeth knows once he’s out the door, he’ll fish it out and throw it in the trash bin. He’s always been so chivalrous to decline a girl face-to-face.
He turns from the counter and Annabeth panics. She hastily bows her head and pretends to be busy with her phone. She’s rooted in her spot and her mind is blank and swarming with thoughts all at once, uncertain of what to do. Should she say ‘Hi’? Talk to him…? She can’t even raise her head anymore.
He walks past her, and she catches a whiff of his natural salty scent that awakens something inside her that even coffee can never do, and goes straight for the door. She wonders fleetingly if he can hear the drumming of her heart calling out to him --- to hear her, to notice her, to glance her way.
…Guess not, because the smell is suddenly gone and the door chimes at his exit.
Should she just let him go, then?
Let him walk away from her as she watches his hunched back retreating in defeat while she masks her guilt with forced nonchalance…then listens to the door quietly closing behind him as he gives her up?
Except this isn’t six years ago and she’s anything but nonchalant and the door is not closed forever.
She leaves her place in the line ---coffee be damned--- because she can survive one day without it, but not another without him. Not when she’s finally strong enough to yank open the door he closed and follow him out like she should have done back then.
The door chimes again as she hurries out of the establishment, eyes sweeping everywhere in search of him. Then, her line of vision zeroes in on him as he opens the door to a blue Mercedes-Benz.
He doesn’t hear her call and proceeds to crouch into his car. She sprints towards his direction, heels click-click-clicking on the pavement. A couple who are walking the opposite direction moves to the side to avoid crashing with her as they notice her rush.
“Percy!” she calls to him again, louder and more desperate.
The hoarse itch in her throat proves to be worth it because this time, he looks up.
It is evident the moment he spots the source of the call because his eyes widen and his jaw hardens just a little. For a split moment, he looks like he is going to ignore her and just drive away. But his expression loosens eventually, settling on honest surprise and a tentative smile.
He breathes out her name in wonder and Annabeth is cloaked with warmth at the realization that her name has not sounded that beautiful in a long time. After all, only this man can make everything about her, everything she says and does, beautiful.
She stands, a little out of breath from her Olympic-winning dash, in front of his car. She smiles in awe because what else can she do when she’s finally looking at her favorite shade of green, bringing to her the serenity of the ocean in the middle of a busy, almost chaotic, New York street? She realizes she hasn’t seen the ocean in quite a while now. Literally and metaphorically true.
“Your eyes are still green,” She inwardly cringes and mentally slaps herself. Of all the things she could have said as greetings, Your eyes are still green? Of course, they’d be green. She’s as lame as the mashed potatoes she flipped down on the sink that morning.
If he’s taken aback at her statement, he hides it really well. “Yeah, I tried it blue but it’s just not the same.” For a second, his face sported a somewhat faraway look, like a very vivid picture is flashing before his eyes, but blinks the image away immediately. He shuts the door of his car and seats his coffee atop its roof. “I didn’t expect to run on you here.”
“I can say the same thing, except I’m not surprised.” Annabeth says. “I’m… stupefied, to say the least.”
He realizes the truth of her statement even before she finishes saying it. Because if there is anybody between them that should be surprised with their running on each other in a random Starbucks café in the middle of the hustle and bustle of New York City life, it’d be Annabeth. After all, Annabeth has been living in New York all her life. Percy on the other hand…
He rubs the back of his neck awkwardly. “Yeah…”
Annabeth briefly catches sight of a small, three-letter design, written at the back of his wrist before his hand falls to his side again. She guesses it’s a tattoo. She wishes she can say she’s only mildly interested on what it says but she’ll be lying. Percy is the kind who isn’t into tattoos and if he gets one, it’s a real big deal why he did it. Or for whom he did it. Either way, she is definitely curious and itches to reach for his hand and hold it to her face to analyze and study and admire the tattoo whatever it is or it represents.
“So, umm, what are you doing here?” She’s fiddling with the sling of her bag, trying for a casual conversation.
“Oh I just stopped by to get some coffee,” he gestures at the bag sitting innocently on the roof of his car.
“No, I mean here.” Annabeth emphasizes. “In New York.”
“Oh, umm, actually, I---I moved back here a couple of days ago---“
Annabeth thinks she heard him say something about being assigned here for work by the boss-man and she really wants to listen but her mind keeps backtracking to ’moved back here’ and she hopes it’s not that visible in the way her eyes shines and smile widens that her heart is doing a silly happy dance inside her chest. That would be embarrassing.
“Oh, is that so? Great!” She tries to sound indifferent but it came out as high-pitched. She clears her throat subtly. “I mean ---good. Good for you.”
He nods. “I guess. I did miss home.”
She almost asks ‘Did you miss me, by any chance?’ but luckily stops herself. Instead she asks, “Do you know about Grover’s wedding?”
His eyes lights up at the mention of Grover and his face breaks into a childish grin, “Oh yeah. I’m his best man.”
He sounds so excited for his best friend. It only makes sense, though, that he’d be Grover’s best man. The two of them are as thick as thieves since middle school ---practically inseparable (not as attached to the hips as he and she were, but to be fair they’d known each other since kindergarten so she’ll cut Grover some slack. And after what happened to them, Grover may as well be the only best friend he considers now). Well, until Percy decided to leave the country.
Annabeth always wanted to ask Grover about it, she just never came around to it. She isn’t sure how they would react if he mentions his name, so she never does. Ever since he left, their mutual friends had a silent agreement among themselves, too, not to mention his name whenever she’s around. She’s not sure if it’s for her benefit or for theirs.
“That’s wonderful. I’m sure Grover is over the moon.” Annabeth says sincerely. “Marrying the love of his life and having his best friend as his best man.”
He scoffs good-naturedly, “I’m sure he’s a lot delighted for more reasons than that.” He deadpans.
“What do you mean?”
“I owe him a $50 bet we made back in 6th grade,” he chuckles at the memory and Annabeth is stuck wanting to hear it again and again and AGAIN. “We were idiots back then, but he’s won so I have to cough up, anyway.”
Annabeth gives a little laugh. They really are dorks. No wonder they click so much.
Suddenly a notification tune played from Percy’s phone. He digs his phone from his pocket and reads the message. He raises his head shortly, “It’s mom.” He says. “We’ve made arrangements today. I’m actually headed to their apartment before we….” He gestures at the space between them.
Annabeth warms up at the mention of his mother. Sally Jackson is an amazing woman. She loves Percy so much and she used to always make blue pancakes (Percy’s absolute favorite) whenever Annabeth came over to visit. It’s been years since the last time she’d seen Sally.
She stopped going over to visit since Percy left. She couldn’t find the courage to face her after what happened between her and Percy. Sally tried to reach out to Annabeth many times but she was eaten away by guilt to ever return her calls. But, nevertheless, she misses Sally because she had been like a mother to her, too.
She smiles, trying hard not to sound disappointed. “Yeah, it was---it was nice meeting you again.”
“You too,” he offers a kind smile then opens his car one more time.
She bites her lips so hard. “Percy?” Annabeth blurts before she can stop herself. All she knows is that she can’t just let him drive away.
He pauses and looks at her expectantly.
“Can we---can we talk sometime?” A giant stone is lodged in her stomach. “I mean, if you have any free time and if it’s okay with you.”
He visibly hesitates for a bit and Annabeth understands why. She’s the one who put the wall between them in the first place. At last, he searches through his bag of coffee and pulls out a scrap paper. Annabeth knows it to be the paper that the barista has written her mobile number on from earlier. Percy’s head vanishes inside his car and shortly resurfaces with a pen in his hand. He appears to be scratching out and scribbling on the paper.
“This is my mobile number. Just ring me up.”
Annabeth accepts the paper and holds on to it tightly. “Yeah, I’ll sure do.”
“See you around,”
He gets in the car and Annabeth wants to stop him, to apologize, to beg and to explain. But she understands it is a discussion for some other time. Because he’s giving her a some other time to look forward to and that’s more than what she knows she deserves.
Annabeth’s gaze follows the blue car as it speeds away from her. The paper with his mobile number is burning hot in her palms. For the first time in a long while, Annabeth finds hope like a long-lost old friend.
Hope that she can still say everything that needs to be said to him. Hope that she can still correct her mistakes. Hope that even though she can’t undo what’s been done and unsay what’s been said, they can probably start all over again and she can make it right this time.
Hope that even if she does reincarnate into a spider after she dies, she’s gonna live a happy, webby, eight-legged life anyway.
//.// curt //.//