story-telling series: hardly strangers, part 3

PART THREE – TRISTAN. “Tristan, can you say something?” she asked.

Her prodding was answered with nothing but the hum of my car’s engine. For once, I wished I had a noisier car; I felt like I needed something to drown out her voice. I couldn’t bring myself to say anything. I was speechless. I’ve been speechless for the past two hours.

“Please say something, Tristan. You’re starting to scare me,” she pressed, the anxiety spilling from her voice. “Please,” she said again, her hand grazing my right hand which was clenched on my knee. Now I also wished I drove a stick shift, so I could have some excuse to avoid holding her hand. I pulled my hand away from under hers and put it on the steering wheel.

She started crying. Again.

“Jane, please stop crying. You’ve been crying for the last two hours. I don’t even know how you still have any tears left,” I said. I was exhausted.

Two hours earlier, Jane had shown up at my door already in hysterics. I had no idea what happened to her, so I quickly let her into my apartment, got her some water and waited patiently for her to calm down enough to tell me what was wrong. At that time, I would’ve given anything to make her stop crying. At that time, I was so crazy about this girl because she was so beautiful and so perfect, even when she was a hysterical, blubbering mess. But at that time, I didn’t know that she had been seeing someone else throughout the whole year we were together. No, actually, “seeing someone else” isn’t quite an adequate expression. More aptly put, she was in a relationship with someone else – a relationship that had already been going on for a whole two and a half years before we even met. For a whole year, she had been playing both of us, and she came over today to tell me that she had “broken it off” with the other dude. She picked me. She picked me because she loved me.

I know that’s supposed to be good news, but there are a lot of things going on in my head, and I can’t decide which way to feel. Firstly, I couldn’t believe she had been lying to me for a whole year. How can you do that to someone who cares about you? What kind of cold-hearted, self-centered person would carry on a lie like that for so long? And second, how could she do that to the other guy she had been seeing? I’m mad that she had been lying to me, but between the two of us, that other guy must feel totally screwed over. I can’t even imagine what he’s going through right now, and I can’t believe that she’s dragged me into that mess. I don’t want any part in screwing some other guy over, even though I have no idea who he is and I think he’s kind of an idiot for not realizing that she’s been cheating all this time. Then again…she has been cheating on me, too. So thirdly, I’m really annoyed that she’s made me look like an idiot. Even though I was the idiot that she had picked in the end.

Don’t get me wrong. If this were some other buddy of mine and it came down to him and some random stranger, I would tell him to get over his whining and celebrate. Jane is a perfect ten, and I know she could have guys lining up for her in a second. Actually, that’s how I met her in the first place – in a line-up. We were at a coffee shop in the city on a Friday afternoon. She had been there for hours, studying for a microbiology final, and was in line behind me for her third espresso. I wasn’t exactly there to scope out girls, so I was concentrating on figuring out my order. I guess she had drank too much coffee by then, because she impatiently tapped my shoulder and said, “Excuse me, are you going to be much longer?”

I was getting ready to say something to her when I turned around and saw her face. She looked half-crazed, half-irritated, and stunning. I was caught off-guard and lost whatever train of thought I had, so I just gestured for her to go ahead of me. She sort of huffed past and quickly ordered her coffee to the girl at the cash register, who had obviously taken her order more than once today because she was already punching it in before Jane even finished her sentence.

Luckily, I recovered from my temporary paralysis and walked right up to the counter as Jane was finishing her order. It was now or never. I interrupted Jane’s order and said to the cashier, “And I’d like a plain house blend, no cream, no sugar, to go.”

Jane looked at me, about to lose it. I didn’t even turn to look at her, but instead handed the cashier some cash, way too much for two coffees. Before she could say anything else, my drink was in my hand and I said to the cashier, “That’s for hers, too. Keep the change.”

It was hard not to walk out of the coffee shop with a smile on my face. I didn’t have to turn around to know that Jane was gawking at me from inside the coffee shop, confused and amazed. What I didn’t know was that I would see her there again the next day. And that she would be waiting for me.

“How did you know I was going to be here?” I asked her.

“I didn’t. It was a lucky guess. I’ve pretty much just been hanging around here all afternoon,” she said. She looked right into my eyes while she said this, without a hint of embarrassment or insecurity in her face. “I wanted to apologize for how I was yesterday. I was studying for finals and microbiology is…kicking my butt. Anyway. I took it out on you and I didn’t even know who you were. I would blame it on the caffeine, but that would be lame. So…I was hoping to run into you again today to say I’m sorry. And to give you this,” she said, pushing a cup of coffee toward my chest. “Plain house blend, no cream, no sugar, to go.”

I couldn’t believe my luck. This is the hottest girl I have ever met, and she pretty much staked out here to talk to me. And buy me coffee. This was probably never going to happen again. I did the only thing that I thought would be appropriate: I milked it.

“Man,” I said. “I should’ve ordered a fancier drink.” It was a risk. I was waiting for her to walk away, never to come back again.

Instead, she smiled wryly at me and rolled her eyes. “Don’t push your luck,” she said.

That was the last time I met her at the coffee shop, but we exchanged numbers and started talking. Talking turned into hanging out. Hanging out turned into dating. And up until two hours ago, I would’ve easily admitted that, at least in my case, dating had turned into falling in love. But like I said, that was two hours ago. Now, it’s a whole other story.

Her voice broke through my reverie. “Where are we going, exactly?” she asked.

“We’re going to the coffee shop. I have to pick someone up,” I said wearily.

“Do you have to be driving so fast?” she asked timidly, eyeing my speedometer.

“I’m really late,” I said. It wasn’t a lie. My dad had called me an hour ago, asking me to pick up my grandfather at the coffee shop in the city, the same one where I met Jane. I missed the call because Jane was crying in my apartment. Now, it’s nearly 10:00 pm and I highly doubt that the coffee shop is still open, so I had good reason to speed in case my grandfather has been kicked out onto the curb with no ride home.

But obviously, given my current emotional disposition, my grandfather wasn’t the only reason I was speeding.

“Oh, great. A road block. Just what I needed,” I muttered under my breath as I approached the intersection. As I got closer, I got a better look at the cars that lay scattered on the road ahead, dented, steaming. There was a blue coupe with its nose jammed into the passenger side of a silver sedan, which looked like it had been sandwiched between the blue coupe and a black hatchback.

“This looks terrible,” I said. Beside me, I heard Jane gasp. I turned to look at her and her face was as white as a blank sheet of paper.

“Is that…a silver Accord?” she said. Her voice was trembling.

“Um…the one sandwiched in the middle, yeah, it looks like it,” I said. I slowed down as I approached the scene of the accident. There were police cars and rescue vehicles blocking the way, and I couldn’t see what was going on.

“Stop the car,” Jane said.

“What? Why?” I asked.

“Tristan, STOP THE CAR,” she said, panicking. Before I could come to a complete stop, she was already opening her door.

I grabbed her wrist and asked, “Jane, what is going on?!”

She looked at me with desperate eyes, tears streaming down her face. “That silver car…that’s Peter’s car.”

“Who’s Peter?” I asked, completely confused.

“He’s the guy I just broke up with today,” she said. Without another look, she slammed her door shut and ran for the ambulance.

Awesome, I thought to myself, slowly getting out to follow her. Gramps is probably sitting out on the curb right now, waiting for his ride home. My dad is going to kill me when he finds out I kept him waiting for an hour and a half. And now, I’m about to meet the guy whose girlfriend I just ripped out from underneath his nose. Perfect.

I knew the situation was probably scary for Jane, but I was in no hurry to be by her side. I took my time wandering through the rubble, looking around at the debris. The paramedics were wrapping a blanket around a younger girl, who was still trembling in shock but who looked like she was alright. I could see a police woman hovering over Peter’s window, shining a flashlight in his face. I could see him lifting his head up and opening his eyes. Then I heard a group of paramedics coming up from behind me, carrying a stretcher. I moved out of the way and watched them bring a man into the ambulance.

My heart stopped before I even registered what I saw: the man in the stretcher was my grandfather.

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