A quick refresher?
She was as serious as hell when she claimed that Coffee Club Harbour Town was quieter at this time of the day. Save for a couple of diners scattered inside and outside the coffeehouse, there wasn’t a crowd at the area. Not knowing what to do and not desiring to block the entrance, he waited at the corner of the coffeehouse.
“Hello, Brendan,” a voice behind him greeted.
Neither was it strong nor loud. It was coated with the right amount of warmth and friendliness yet he detected traces of caution in it. It was definitely her.
He turned at the familiar tone.
She donned a floral flair dress with a pair of matching brown wedges. Her shoulder-length hair was trimmed into a shorter bob. She glanced at him with a smile. “Winnie?”
“Let’s go inside. I’m not delivering your corpse, if you die from the heat, to Katrina.”
Ouch, the wounds from her sarcasm was deeper than that of a knife, he thought, but quickly recovered from it. Katrina must’ve stabbed her with such offence that it left Winnie with a sour tongue.
Winnie ensured that they were tucked away at the far end of Coffee Club, where it was quieter, cooler, and full of view, before she skated the surface while waiting for their coffee.
“I don’t mean to murder you with sarcasm, Brendan, but it’s in my blood now. It’s the only way that I can protect myself from people who bleed me dry for their benefit.” She was less standoffish with the traces of old Winnie resurfacing. “To receive your text that you’re in Perth all of a sudden definitely knocked me off. I didn’t know how to welcome or treat you now that we’ve been out of contact for almost half a year. The best way would be to retain the sarcasm while I observe you to see if you’ve changed or if you’re still the same Brendan Carrington that I know. So, tell me, why the long flight to nail me to the ground?”
“I needed to see you. No, let me correct that. I wanted to know the reasons behind your departure. I wanted to reason it out with you…,” he whispered, “and you’ve left hearts broken in its wake.”
She suppressed a smile and raised an eyebrow instead. That was so Brendan: honest, straight to the point, and refusing to beat around the bush. “I didn’t know I was sorely missed in Adelaide. But yes, I’ll spill the reasons like the rain.”
The barista came to deliver their coffees: a regular flat white for Winnie and an iced lemon tea for Brendan. If there was something that remained the same in her absence, it was Brendan’s habit before sinking into his cup of tea. She watched as he tore two satchels of sugar and dissolved it into the liquid with a quick stir.
“It’s like when we always went out for a drink or two, you’d dump sugar inside your drink and comment that the amount of saccharine was perfect when you’ve arranged an appointment with diabetes.” Her face fell at the memory and she stared into her flat white. “I’m sorry for leaving.”
“Why did you have to leave then?”
“You and Katrina.”
Brendan’s eyes widened. “What?!”
Winnie sighed. “Brendan, are you naive or oblivious? You’re not a Sagittarius, so you shouldn’t be oblivious. You would’ve been stupid not to have noticed Katrina’s mischievous twinkle at you whenever she spoke. Or the fact that she glanced at you like a love struck puppy. Her eyes glared with such fury that it was capable of murder whenever you hugged me but not her. Also, only a fool couldn't see your preferential treatment towards me. If there’s one thing you haven’t known about the girl, she is observant - even for the finest detail. That’s what makes her a good debater and law student. She sees through the cracks and manipulates it to her advantage. Your eyes dilated with passion whenever you glanced at me. Your green eyes, while exotic, does not work in your favour in times like that. Katrina and I are able to get away easily because you can’t see our dilated eyes unless we’re under the sun. Your face could’ve brightened the somber Adelaidean winter whenever you showed up at my favourite places, the ones that Katrina didn’t know I love. Not to mention, your reaction whenever I laughed until I flushed with embarrassment… Should I continue?”
“It was as if you longed for me to be elated in your company and not worry about matters, no matter how serious they were. Correct me if I’m wrong, but now that I’m out of the picture, has she been continuously texting you to hang out after classes? Or asking you to check out certain videos about love songs and romance novels?”
What Winnie described was almost the accurate description of Katrina’s behaviour towards him. Ever since she left, courage possessed Katrina with the bravery to message Brendan over serious and petty things like the ones Winnie mentioned. It was rubbing off him in the wrong light and he felt that she clung to him like he was her somebody.
“How did you know?”
“I’ve known that girl longer than you, my friend. She was in the same classes as me throughout high school and we’re distantly related through our mothers. I’ve never remained more than cordial with her because she is competitive. Anyway, it was easy to guess. Someone can become desperate when he or she wants the attention of their crush. Plus, you’ve no idea what she said to me during one of the family gatherings lately. She growled that you’re all hers and I should give my blessings instead of standing in the way. She even accused me of brainwashing you to dislike her! I mean, that isn’t true. You’re who you are and I can’t answer why you aren’t as close to her than to me. You’d never been able to see it because she’s clever. She knows how to separate work from family drama and jealousy.”
“How did you know that I liked you? I was as discreet as I could be. I always resisted the urge to embrace you unless it was to greet you after months of not seeing each other. I’ve never glanced or stared at your direction in class or bought you drinks when we were together either. I tried my hardest not to give you the eyebrow flash when you rocked in with your presentation outfit. I purposely didn’t compliment you on your haircut either.” Brendan gulped half of his iced lemon tea. “But you’ve reasonable cause to suspect because it’s all true. I like you and still do, which is why your unexplained departure slapped me the hardest.”
Winnie sipped her flat white, contented with the silence while buying time for her response. She never expected Brendan to come clean because she didn’t want to believe the signs in front of her. “The truth is I like you, Brendan,” she admitted. “But there’s too much for us to overcome. As I’ve mentioned much earlier, Perth is my home. I don’t want to be pitted against you, Katrina, and home after graduation. Long-distance relationship is not something I can deal with. If I hooked up with you, I’d lose Katrina as a friend. What’s worse is we’ll be sworn archrivals. If Katrina is your girlfriend, I’d lose you as a friend. Imagine the three of us heading out and hanging together. I’d be the lamp post that’s infringing on the lovebirds’ private moment. That’s reason number two.”
“Let me finish. Reason number three is my ex-boyfriend. For whatever reason, the bloody idiot decided to pursue his education with his new flame in Adelaide. To make it worse, they are in our uni but under a different faculty. That’s my former best friend, whom he cheated on me with. I know you’ll argue that you’re different than Tobias, but it brings back raw memories. My heart still faintly skips whenever something reminds me of him or of our time together although it’s been three years since our breakup. Throw that on top of watching you and Katrina as a couple if that occurs. What I’m insinuating is I don’t know if I can overcome the scars and love you wholeheartedly. It makes it harder for me to trust you as a lover while focusing on my grades.”
Her eyes lost its radiant soul and on the verge of burning itself with a salty solution. It took an amount of self-control for Brendan not to take her into his embrace and comfort her. “You’ve to be kidding me, Winnie! You should’ve told me about this!” At least you wouldn’t have to suffer in silence and I’d have ensured that your ex learnt his lesson for not appreciating your sweet presence!” His voice softened. “My relationship with Katrina is and has always been platonic, we know that. The foundation that our friendship is built on is powerful enough to endure the storm from a future relationship, should it ever occur…”
“I didn’t need you to rock up to him and bleed the soul out of him either, Brendan, although the thought is much appreciated. I’m not worth enough for you to land yourself a meeting with the disciplinary board. As far as it mattered, I’m a stranger to them… just a fellow peer from uni. I strive hard to stay away from events that involve his favourite pastimes because I’d run into him there. You’re a law student, Brendan. You can’t afford to have a record of anything that might clip your chances of being the awesome lawyer I know you are.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t know about this.”
“Don’t be stupid, Brendan. You’re a native who has his life planned out for him in Adelaide. Me? Adelaide was an education sojourn for me. My life is in Perth. I know you love me and you wanted me to stay, but I don’t want you to be screwed over by someone who’s not staying there for good. Soon, you’d start hating me for playing you like a harp. So, no, thanks, it’s not something I want to risk, especially since you’ve been so good to me.” She gripped his hand. “I appreciate it that you miss me, but leaving was the only plausible choice. Please forgive me, Brendan, for being the love you can never have.”
“I won’t hate you. How could I hate someone whom I love, Winnie?”